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Ethnicity, Culture, and Disaster Response: Identifying and Explaining Ethnic Differences in PTSD Six Months After Hurricane Andrew

Julia L. Perilla  ; Fran H. Norris  ; Evelyn A. Lavizzo 

February 1, 2002

A sample of 404 residents of southern Florida were interviewed in their own homes six months after Hurricane Andrew. The sample was composed of equal numbers of hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks, and Caucasians. Most Latinos (n = 97) elected to complete the interview in Spanish; all other interviews were conducted in English. Ethnic groups differed strongly in the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Caucasian disaster victims showed the lowest rate (15%), Spanish-preferring Latinos showed the highest rate (38%), and African-Americans showed a rate (23%) between these two extremes. Additional analyses attempted to explain these symptom differences in terms of differential exposure and differential vulnerability to trauma. Both explanations had merit but neither completely accounted for observed ethnic differences. Cultural-specific responses to Hurricane Andrew suggest the need to view psychological symptoms in light of the possible adaptive nature of the behaviors due to political, social, economic, and historical perspectives.