The psychological reactions after witnessing a killing in public in a Danish high school

A. Elklit, S. Kurdahl

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BACKGROUND: School killings attract immense media and public attention but psychological studies surrounding these events are rare. OBJECTIVE: To examine the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and possible risk factors of PTSD in 320 Danish high school students (mean age 18 years) 7 months after witnessing a young man killing his former girlfriend in front of a large audience. METHOD: The students answered the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ), the Crisis Support Scale (CSS), and the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC). RESULTS: Prevalence of PTSD 7 months after the incident was 9.5%. Furthermore, 25% had PTSD at a subclinical level. Intimacy with the deceased girl; feeling fear, helplessness, or horror during the killing; lack of expressive ability; feeling let down by others; negative affectivity; and dissociation predicted 78% of the variance of the HTQ total scores. CONCLUSION: It is possible to identify students who are most likely to suffer from PTSD. This knowledge could be used to intervene early on to reduce adversities.
TidsskriftEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
StatusUdgivet - 2013