With the rapid development of communication technologies, many can now experience disasters vicariously through the media in real time and also repeatedly, exposing themselves to indirect trauma without ever actually experiencing a disaster firsthand. While more studies have focused on the negative effects of indirect trauma, this study will explore the positive outcomes of indirect trauma from the viewpoint of post-traumatic growth and the openness of the mind.
Three subjects of research were set up for this purpose.
The first was to evaluate the general public’s post-traumatic stress response from their exposure to the Sewol Tragedy through the media by measuring post-traumatic stress symptoms and the subjective perception of post-trauma risk.
The second was to figure out the relationship between post-traumatic stress response and post-traumatic growth from this indirect exposure to the disaster.
The third was to empirically verify the role of the openness of the mind
in post-traumatic growth.
Starting at 6 weeks after the Sewol Ferry disaster over a 3 month period,
811 participants nationwide, ages ranging from 14 to 70(M = 31.6, SD = 12.31), filled out a self-report questionnaire that included: Impact of Event Scale-Korean, Post-trauma Risk Checklist, Korean Stress-related Growth Scale-Revised, and questions about behavioral changes toward disaster related news. Descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, chi-squared test, and one-way ANOVA were conducted to address the research questions.
The results of this study on indirect trauma are summarized as follows.
First, a considerable number of the sampled participants showed post-traumatic stress response after their exposure to the Sewol Ferry disaster through the media. In terms of post-traumatic stress symptoms, 30.4% reported partial or full PTSD level symptoms. In terms of post-trauma risk, 30.3% showed moderate to high level risk of probability of developing PTSD.
Second, post-traumatic growth was significantly higher in the group with high stress symptoms and lower in the group with low stress symptoms. Post-traumatic growth was also significantly higher in the high risk group and lower in the low risk group.
Third, post-traumatic stress response as well as post-traumatic growth were significantly higher in the group with the high openness. In the low openness group, both post-traumatic stress response and post-traumatic growth were significantly lower.
The results of this study confirmed the following.
First, indirect trauma is remarkably similar to direct trauma in that it can induce both post-traumatic stress response and post-traumatic growth.
Second, post-traumatic stress response and post-traumatic growth are positively correlated which means there is no growth without distress. Therefore, the perception of trauma as a pathogenic factor needs to expand to include trauma as a chance for growth.
Third, the openness of the mind not only plays a vital role in post-traumatic growth but also occurs as an outcome of that growth, forming a positive feedback loop. The openness can cause distress in the short interim, but in the long term, can bring adaptive change to the environment.
Implications and suggestions based on these findings were discussed in this study.