Importance: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is highly prevalent among refugees surviving mass atrocities, especially among women. Longitudinal studies investigating factors associated with PTSD course are essential to enable adequate treatment yet widely lacking.
Objective: To identify longitudinal changes in PTSD severity and posttraumatic coping among severely traumatized female refugees as well as risk and protective factors for PTSD course.
Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study took place in 14 German cities in the context of a humanitarian admission program that resettled 1000 especially vulnerable women and children from northern Iraq to Germany. Approximately 400 adult beneficiaries of the humanitarian admission program were eligible for the study. At baseline, a total of 116 of the 400 beneficiaries (29.0%) participated, with 96 (82.8%) of these women participating in the follow-up assessment. The study included a baseline assessment conducted 2 years after resettlement (September 1, 2017, to January 12, 2018) and a 1-year follow-up (August 29, 2018, to January 15, 2019).
Exposures: Violence and/or captivity during the 2014 genocide in northern Iraq by the so-called Islamic State.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Posttraumatic stress disorder severity and coping strategies were assessed in interpreter-aided interviews using the Impact of Event Scale–Revised.
Results: A total of 116 women (mean [SD] age, 32.2 [8.2] years; 115 [99.1%] Yazidi; 1 [0.9%] Christian) participated at baseline. According to the Impact of Event Scale–Revised, a high PTSD severity was found (mean [SD] raw sum score, 60.88 [15.75] of 88, with higher scores indicating greater distress), with no significant change over time. Helpful coping strategies included prayer, belief in collective strength, and belief in personal strength. Earlier symptoms of intrusions (β = 0.389, P = .007) and longer captivity (β = 0.218, P = .02) were identified as being associated with PTSD severity 1 year later. Longer captivity was associated with PTSD aggravation over time (β = 0.227, P = .04). Posttraumatic strengthening in faith (β = −0.206, P = .05) and in social relationships (β = −0.221, P = .03) were associated with a reduction in PTSD symptoms.
Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that female refugee survivors of genocide are at high risk for severe and chronic PTSD beyond the initial years of resettlement. The findings provide suggestions for mental health care specialized for particularly vulnerable populations.