Secondary traumatization describes the phenomenon whereby those in proximity to trauma survivors develop psychological symptoms similar to those experienced by the direct survivor. The current study examined secondary trauma (ST) and generalized distress symptoms (general psychiatric symptomatology, functional disability, and self-rated health) in wives of former prisoners of war (ex-POWs). The study compared wives of Israeli ex-POWs from the 1973 Yom Kippur War with wives of a matched control group of non-POW Yom Kippur War combat veterans (CVs). The wives also were divided into groups based on their husbands' current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) status and PTSD trajectory (i.e., chronic, delayed), and their outcomes were compared with resilient CVs. We found that wives of ex-POWs with PTSD reported higher ST and generalized distress than wives of ex-POWs and non-POW CVs without PTSD. Wives of ex-POWs with chronic PTSD reported the highest levels of functional disability. We also found that the relationships between husbands' prior captivity, and wives' ST and general psychiatric symptomatology were fully mediated by the husbands' PTSD symptoms. These findings indicate that it is exposure to a partner with PTSD that leads to overall ST and other distress symptoms, and not simply to a trauma survivor. Furthermore, the more severe their husbands' PTSD, the more wives are at risk for ST and general psychiatric symptomatology. Wives of partners with PTSD should therefore be considered high-risk groups for ST and distress that may require targeted interventions.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Prisoner of war
- Secondary traumatization