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Diff'rent Folks, Diff'rent Stress

Post-traumatic stress affects people across the globe in sometimes surprising ways, including sixth-graders in a rough part of Los Angeles, a high rate of foreign-born U.S. Latinos and relatively few Israelis, three studies suggest.

The studies appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on violence.

The reports "highlight the increasing appreciation of the complexity, ubiquity, and inescapability of both personal and indirect exposure to trauma and violence," Dr. Jerome Kroll, a University of Minnesota psychiatrist, said in a JAMA editorial.

The studies examined post-traumatic stress disorder, mental dysfunction that sometimes occurs after people witness or are victimized by violence or severe accidents. Symptoms include persistent flashbacks, avoidance of things that trigger memories of the violence and feeling emotionally numb.

About half (54 percent) of 638 Latin American immigrants queried in one study said they had been exposed to political violence and torture in their homelands but few had reported that to their doctors. In addition, 26 percent had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The results are significant considering that Hispanics are the fastest-growing U.S. minority group, said the researchers, from the University of California at Los Angeles.

In another study, researchers at Tel Aviv University queried 512 Israeli adults in telephone surveys in April and May 2002, following a time of nearly incessant terrorist violence.

More than half had been directly exposed to a terrorist attack or had relatives or friends who were. Yet only 9 percent had symptoms suggesting post-traumatic stress disorder, and more than 80 percent said they felt optimistic about their futures, said researchers led by Dr. Avraham Bleich.

Most participants reported using coping strategies such as talking with others about the violence, faith and seeking information on the attacks tactics that may help explain the relatively low levels of distress, the researchers said.

In a separate study of 126 California sixth-graders with suspected post-traumatic stress, 10 sessions of school-based group therapy taught coping skills that helped substantially reduce stress symptoms.

The youngsters were from two schools in economically disadvantaged east Los Angeles, and three-quarters said they had experienced or witnessed violence involving guns or knives.

After three months, youngsters who got the treatment had significantly fewer self-reported symptoms than untreated children.

The initially untreated group later received 10 sessions of the same therapy, after which differences in post traumatic stress disorder scores between the two groups disappeared.

The treatment "may be a promising model for community-based programs for children who experience or witness violence," said the researchers, led by Dr. Bradley Stein of the RAND organization in Santa Monica, Calif.

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