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June 24, 1988

Study Says Memories of Violent Death Linger in Survivors, Trigger Psychosocial Problems

JAMA. 1988;259(24):3524-3529. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720240004004

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VIOLENT DEATH at the hands of a person or an out-of-control automobile is tragic in itself. Now there are indications that many of the surviving relatives, whether or not they themselves witnessed the death, continue to suffer the consequences of the tragedy long after its passing, becoming "indirect victims." Many suffer all the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a constellation of anxiety symptoms, flashbacks, and avoidance behaviors.

Little to date has been known about how many Americans are such indirect victims, still less about which of them will experience lingering emotional problems. At the Boston meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, a team of investigators reported the results of a national survey of Americans about the prevalence of indirect victimization and preliminary data on some of the factors most likely to be associated with long-term aftereffects.

This study found that more than 4 million adult Americans are indirect