Although youths in many countries have been exposed to terrorism, few studies have examined early risk and protective factors for the subsequent development of mental health problems.
To investigate the levels of post-traumatic stress in survivors of the 2011 massacre on Utøya Island compared with the general population in Norway, and to identify predictive factors.
Four hundred and ninety survivors were invited to participate. Structured face-to-face interviews were performed 4-5 months after the attack.
There were 325 study participants (response rate 66%). Survivors had been highly exposed to danger and loss. Post-traumatic stress levels were more than six times higher in survivors than in the general population. Predictors were female gender, minority ethnic status, high level of trauma exposure, pain, the loss of someone close and social support.
Survivor characteristics that can be assessed in the early aftermath of a terrorist attack strongly predict the subsequent mental health problems of exposed youths. The highly elevated symptoms observed were largely attributable to the traumatic experience and reflect the mental health costs of the terrorist attack.