Research News You Can Use
Note from Nayda
Nayda Torres, Ph.D., Chair, Family, Youth & Community Sciences
Assistant Dean-Extension, Family & Consumer Science
Welcome to the Spring 2006 issue of the Department of Family, Youth and Community
Sciences research newsletter: Research News You Can Use. This helpful series shares up-
to-date, reliable research in Family, Youth and Community Sciences with you for use in
Your input and suggestions make this newsletter better. Please let us know what you
Thank you to all faculty members who contributed this issue:
Rose Barnett Suzanna Smith
Elizabeth Bolton Jo Turner
Kate Fogarty Carolyn Wilken
What We Need to Know About Adolescent Suicide
Rosemary V. Barnett, Ph.D., Youth Development and Public Policy, and Stephanie Bates,
Suicide continues to be among the leading causes of death in the United States among 10-
19 year olds. It is currently ranked third, with the greatest increases in suicide rates in the
previous decade among black and other minority youth. It is important to stay aware and
informed about this serious topic. Should we notice serious depressive and/or suicide
symptoms among youth, it is critical that they be referred for appropriate treatment
This review of an article by Iris Wagman Borowsky, MD, Ph.D., Marjorie Ireland, Ph.D.
and Michael D. Resnick, Ph.D. (2000) will focus on some current research related to what
we know may place a youth at risk for attempting suicide and what has been identified in
the research related to protective factors for these youth. This information will help us
consider how these factors may relate to youth we know or are currently working with in
The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (1995 &
1996) which examined interviews with 13,110 students in grades 7-12. The results indicated
that certain risk and protective factors for suicide attempts were identified for all
adolescents in the study and some were specific to race and gender, specifically focusing
on Black, Hispanic and White groups of adolescents.
For all adolescents, several factors predicted attempting suicide, including a
previous suicide attempt, violence victimization, violence perpetration, alcohol use,
marijuana use, and school problems.
For girls of all racial/ethnic groups in the study, these factors predicted attempting
suicide: somatic symptoms, having a friend attempt or complete suicide, other illicit
drug use, and a history of mental health treatment.
For boys of all racial/ethnic groups in the study, predictive factors were: weapon
carrying at school and same sex romantic attraction.
For at least 1 of the 6 racial/ethnic groups in the study, risk factors included suicidal
behavior of a family member, easy household access to guns, weight dissatisfaction,
skipping school, poor perceived general health, being held back a grade in school,
and skipping a grade in school.
Several factors were found to significantly reduce the odds of suicide attempts among
youth in the study.
For all adolescents, perceived parent and family connectedness served as a
For girls, emotional well-being was protective for all racial/ethnic groups in the
For boys, an additional protective factor was a high grade point average.
For some of the boys but not for the girls, high parental expectations for school
achievement, more people living in the household and religiosity were protective.
For some of the girls but not for the boys, counseling services at school and parental
presence at key times during the day were protective.
When all of the risk factors were analyzed in various combinations with protective factors,
significant findings related to protective factors resulted:
The risk for attempting suicide, for all adolescents in the study showed a reduction
of 70% to 85% when three protective factors (emotional well-being, parent-family
connectedness, grade point average) were present.
These results support the importance of family connectedness when it comes to
preventing suicide attempts, regardless of gender or racial/ethnic group.
Emotional well-being also significantly protects youth against suicide attempts;
whereas the opposite is true for youth characterized by psychopathology,
Last, it is important to recognize the importance of school factors, specifically academic
achievement as measured by grade point average in this study, which supports earlier
findings that perceived connectedness to school are also protective by providing youth a
sense of belonging, happiness and safety at school (Resnick et al, 1999). Of particular
impact is the perception of students that they are close to people at school and teachers
care about them.
As the end of the school year approaches, it is particularly important to keep a watchful
eye on youth under added stress, such as final exams, deadlines, and standardized tests.
By being aware of suicide predictors as found in this study, we can try to keep youth safe
by minimizing risks and enhancing protective factors. Those youth at risk for suicidal
behavior or depression can especially benefit from caring adults who address the external
demands and stress. This provides youth with these important factors to offset their risk.
Clearly, while faced with a serious problem, parents and practitioners are far from
powerless in assisting their adolescents.
Borowsky, I.W., Ireland, M. & Resnick, M. (2000). Adolescent suicide attempts: Risks and
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National
Vital Statistics System. http://www.childstats.gov.
Resnick, A.D., Harris, L.J., Blum, R.W. (1993) The impact of caring and connectedness on
adolescent health and well-being. Journal of Pediatric Child Health. 29(supplement): S3-S9.
The Impact of Devolution on Nonprofits
Elizabeth Bolton, Ph.D. Community Development
Alexander, J. (Fall 1999). The Impact of Devolution on Nonprofits: A
multiphase Study of Social Service Organizations. Nonprofit management
and leadership. Vol. 10, no. 1. p. 57 70.
Devolution affects every organization that serves the public in the state of Florida. The
author defined the term in this study to mean the process of changing organizations'
funding resources from government focused to block grants and state regulated funding.
Also known as, "the new federalism," the intent of devolution is to shift funding and
oversight responsibility from the federal government and to individual states. The reality
that gives wings to devolution is that programs financed by the federal government,
particularly welfare programs, have been wasteful and ineffective. According to the
author, devolution is part of a larger movement aimed at both government and nonprofit
organizations. The assumption underlying this movement is that private sector practices
and technologies are better and more effective than those in the public sector are.
The article points out that the goals of devolution were to make nonprofits central in
providing services and to make government agencies a fallback. As the funding from
government fluctuates the number and strength of nonprofits also fluctuates. This is
evident as many organizations choose not to serve low-income groups, but rather the
needs of persons they choose to serve. There is a correlation between the audience served
and the presence of government funding.
Organizations that serve children and families in Cayahoga County, Ohio completed a
survey to determine how devolution was affecting them. 124 surveys were completed and
focus group results were included to determine possible ways for the organizations to
survive. The results of the study showed that larger organizations already operating like a
business entity were not likely to find themselves affected by changes due to devolution;
while smaller organizations found it hard to adapt to these practices induced by
devolution. The small organizations found it necessary to spend more of their limited
resources on required management tasks and procedures and reduce the amount available
to programs and client services. As the need to generate measurable outcomes grew,
smaller organizations had to deal with changing their mission to survive in a new milieu of
business operations rather than altruistic practice. One example showed that small
organizations had to hire highly qualified and expensive personnel in order to be able to
receive and maintain certain licenses.
Implications for Extension Programming
The implications of this article for Cooperative Extension suggest that the business model
is the order of the day if public organizations are to survive and flourish.
The boundaries between for profit and nonprofit will continue to blur as competition
becomes more intense and government funding decreases. Organizational leaders will
need to be effective in lobbying and political involvement to ensure they are aware of
events that might influence their funding or programs. The funding of welfare programs,
how these changes affect the client groups, and the sponsoring organizations, are an
example of how devolution works and the results of it. The question is: do we, in
Cooperative Extension, ignore it and just hope for the best, or do we accept that it is
happening and adapt our strategies to the changing realities of "new public management"
which assumes that the efficiency of markets and the value of competition are the best way
to serve many public needs
Communicating With Teens About Sex: Facts, Findings,
Kate Fogarty, Ph.D., Youth Development
Where do teens get their information about sex?
In a small but crowded room of 4-H seniors (aged 14-18) from across Florida, an
uncomfortable question was asked: "How many of you discuss sex 'openly' with your
parents?" Two of thirty youth in the room raised their hands; one was male and the other
female. Once the workshop was over, these two who were among the last to leave,
expressed surprise about standing out from the rest of the group.
Granted the 6.7% statistic that I witnessed that day does not come from a "representative
sample." Adolescents' concerns with how they look in front of their peers and the many
meanings teens have for 'open' communication about sex with parents (Kirkman,
Rosenthal, & Feldman, 2005), contributed to the low show of hands. In actuality, half (50%)
of American teens have conversations with their parents about contraception, sexual
behavior, and negative effects of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases/infections
(Jaccard, Dodge, & Dittus, 2002).
The other half gives us cause for concern. If they are not talking with their parents, then
where do these teens get their information about sex? Sex education should not be a
burden placed solely on schools, other community resources, and the media (Ward &
Friedman, 2006). In school, for example, middle schoolers (6th to 8th graders) still wanted
to learn more factual information as well as practical advice on how to apply the
information they've learned in their sex education classes (Byers, Sears, Voyer, Thurlow,
Cohen, & Weaver, 2003). In addition, the majority of parents (95% in a study of 4,000
parents of school-aged youth) agree that sex education is a joint responsibility of school
and the home (Weaver, Byers, Sears, Cohen, & Randall, 2002). Last, there are numerous
advantages to parents and teens discussing sex in the home and family setting, including
Parents can communicate their own values on sexuality.
Parents' better understand their teens' background and life circumstances.
Parents can tailor the information shared based on their understanding of their
teenager's personality, knowledge level, and developmental level.
Barriers to Parent/Adult-Teen Communication About Sex
Possible reasons that teens and parents don't discuss sex include embarrassment
(Rosenthal & Feldman, 2002), or parents' assuming teens know more than they do (the
teens themselves and/or parents!) (Jaccard, Dittus, & Gordon, 2000). Although teens tend
to feel confident in what they know about sex, when tested, their actual knowledge falls
short (Radecki & Jaccard, 1995). Adolescents seek to be treated as adults but may feel
'talked down to' when talking with parents or other adults about sex. Teens' complaints
about discussing sex with parents or adults include viewing them as close-minded,
uncompassionate, or lacking understanding of the complexities in their adolescent lives
Mothers are the primary initiators of discussions on sex with their teens. Mothers tended
to be in charge of these conversations especially when they are communicating with their
sons. The most interactive conversations, however, take place between mothers and
daughters (Raffaeli, Bogenschneider, & Flood, 1998). An adolescent is likely to 'disconnect'
from a discussion when a parent or adult dominates the conversation. Teens who feel
overpowered tend to withdraw from discussions with their parents about sex, which, in
turn, limits the amount of parent-teen conversations about sex and teens' knowledge of
sexual health issues (Lefkowitz, Sigman, & Au, 2000).
Based on the shortcomings of teens' sexual health education by adults, it is important to
encourage positive communication between teens and adults in this area. Effective sexual
health parent education programs promote the following communication styles between
parents and teens (Lefkowitz et al., 2000):
Having two-way conversations.
Use of open-ended questions.
Thorough discussions of dating and sexuality.
Empathy and reduced judgment.
In return, teens of parents trained in communication skills about sexual health are likely to
feel (Lefkowitz et al., 2000):
More comfortable discussing sensitive sexual matters.
More likely to seek out birth control.
In addition, parent-school partnerships in sexual health education (for example assigning
'homework' activities for youth to discuss sexuality issues with parents) are an effective
means of preventing sexual risk behaviors and opening the lines of communication (Blake,
Simkin, Ledsky, Perkins & Calabrese, 2001).
School-based sex education involving communication exercises with parents contributed
to the following:
Reducing early teens' intentions to have sex before completing high school.
Increasing teens' self-efficacy in refusing high-risk sexual behaviors.
Decreasing discomfort in parent-child communication about sex.
Advice for Parents and Sexual Health Educators
Ultimately, educating teens about sexuality needs to be a balance between what teens want
to learn about and what we as adults feel they need to know to develop into healthy
Ways in which adults and parents can effectively communicate with adolescents about sex
include (Berk, 2006; Ponton, 2000):
Encouraging open communication (e.g., speaking directly to teen).
Using accurate yet simple names for body parts, sexual behaviors, and feelings.
Keeping in mind that sexuality is a complex topic and teens are struggling to
understand their sexual identities.
Effective use of conversational skills (Open-ended questions, being nonjudgmental,
respectfully disagreeing, use of suggestion rather than directives).
Reflective listening and speaking (use of I messages, active listening, turn taking).
Keeping the dialogue open and ongoing not restricted to a single "sex talk."
Gently communicating morals and values and using examples.
Encouraging teens to talk with adults they trust about sexuality.
Watching for danger signs such as sexual and other risk behaviors (unprotected sex,
potentially harmful sexual relationships, depression, anxiety, self-mutilation
Keeping in mind that sexuality is a confusing topic and teens are struggling to
understand their sexual identities. Therefore, try to avoid stereotyping by gender,
(For example; using double standards such as having stricter rules for females than
males because 'girls can get pregnant') or by sexual orientation, which can be
potentially damaging to teens' developing identities.
In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind the long-term goal or impact of effective
communication about sexuality with today's youth: ensuring positive youth development
by promoting their physical, social, and emotional health.
Berk, L.E. (2006). Child Development (2nd Edition). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Blake, S.M., Simkin, L., Ledsky, R., Perkins, C., & Calabrese, J.M. (2001). Effects of a parent-
child communications intervention on young adolescents' risk for early onset of sexual
intercourse. Family Planning Perspectives, 33, 52-61.x
Byers, E.S., Sears, H.A., Voyer, S.D., Thurlow, J.L., Cohen, J.N., & Weaver, A.D. (2003). An
adolescent perspective on sexual health education at school and at home: II. Middle school
students. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 12, 19-34.
Jaccard, J., Dodge, T., & Dittus, P. (2002). Parent-adolescent communication about sex and
birth control: A conceptual framework. In S.S. Feldman & D.A. Rosenthal (Eds.), Talking
Sexuality: Parent-adolescent communication (pp. 9-41). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jaccard, J., Dittus, P., & Gordon, V.V. (2000). Parent-adolescent congruency in reports of
adolescent sexual behavior and in communications about sexual behavior. Child
Development, 69, 247-261.
Kirkman, M., Rosenthal, D., & Feldman, S.S. (2005). Being open with your mouth shut: The
meaning of 'openness' in family communication about sexuality. Sex Education, 5, 49-66.
Lefkowitz, E.S., Sigman, M., & Au, T.K. (2000). Helping mothers discuss sexuality and
AIDS with adolescents. Child Development, 71, 1383-1394.
Ponton, L.E. (2000). Teenagers and sexuality at camp: Understanding teen sexuality and
tips for talking with them. Camping Magazine, September/October, 20-24.
Radecki, C.M., & Jaccard, J. (1995). Perceptions of knowledge, actual knowledge, and
information search behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 31, 107-138.
Raffaeli, M., Bogenschneider, K., & Flood, M.F. (1998). Parent-teen communication about
sexual topics. Journal of Family Issues, 19, 315-333.
Ward, L.M., & Friedman, K. (2006). Using TV as a guide: Associations between television
viewing and adolescents' sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Research on
Adolescence, 16, 105-131.
Weaver, A.D., Byers, E.S., Sears, H.A., Cohen, J.N., & Randall, H.E.S. (2002). Sexual health
education at school and at home: Attitudes and experiences of New Brunswick parents.
The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 11, 19-30.
Community Connections: Employee Volunteering
Marilyn K. Lesmeister, Ph.D., Volunteer Development
Volunteers from the Workplace
The workplace is an excellent place to promote volunteerism and recruit volunteers.
Whether it is a small, local business, or large, national corporation, employees can be a
source of "volunteer power" in any community. Employee volunteers are often equipped
with specialized skills, information, and a fresh perspective to help address community
issues and challenges (Lautenschlager, 1993). There can be benefits to the individual
employee, to the employer, the corporation and the community.
"Live and work to make a dittCrence. to make ;ii,,,,' better, even the smallest ;i,,i, Give full consideration to the
rights and interests of others. No business is successful, even if it flourishes, in a society that does not care for or
about its people. "
- Eugene C. Dorsey
What is Employee Volunteering?
As a relatively new and growing field, the terms related to volunteering through one's
workplace have not been firmly established. You may hear the terms employee
volunteering, corporate volunteering, employer-supported volunteering, and workplace
volunteering used simultaneously. While there are distinct differences between them, the
basic idea is that "employees perform work in the community with some form of support
and/or encouragement from their employer" (Graff, 2004). The definitions of four key
Employee volunteering refers to employees who participate in volunteer activities
through their workplace. Employers encourage, support these activities, and create a
'volunteer friendly' workplace an environment where volunteer activity is valued and
recognized. It is usually employee-driven and directed, and done on employees' own
Corporate volunteering is a formal or organized process that a company uses to encourage
and support its employees and retirees to volunteer.
Some retirees enjoy ongoing contact with friends and colleagues, so they may become part
of the corporate volunteer program. The company extends good relationships to the
community through its current employees and retirees.
Employer-Supported volunteering refers to a "continuum" of employer support for
employee volunteer activities and community involvement. Generally, volunteer
initiatives are incorporated into the workplace and involve various levels of employer
involvement (Graff, 2004).
Workplace Volunteering refers to a company's voluntary support of their employees'
volunteer activities and community involvement. According to the National Work-Life
Alliance (2002), an ideal workplace volunteer program should contain elements of both
employee volunteering and corporate volunteering. The following chart highlights the
differences between the two:
EMPLOYEE /RETIREE VOLUNTEERING CORPORATE VOLUNTEERING
Done on employees) own time Happens during business hours
Opportunity for employees to work together Might be an opportunity for employees to do volunteer
Sometimes facilitated by the company; sometimes Generally facilitated by the company with clear
facilitated by the employees) objectives for the event/project
Top down or bottom up, NOT on company time Top down or bottom up, IS on company time
Can be encouraged, promoted, recognized and/or enabled Is encouraged, promoted, recognized and/or enabled by
by the company the company
Source: National Work-Life Alliance (2002)
Volunteer programs in the workplace are most successful when they are based on
"integrating the priorities of the company, the interests of the employees, and the needs of
the community" (Points of Light Foundation, 1996). These programs help businesses
become leaders in their communities. While addressing the needs of the community,
employee volunteers are feeling the rewards of community involvement, the corporation
receives recognition, and the base of volunteers in the organization, grows.
"A good company delivers excellent products and services, and a great company does all that and strives to make the
world a better place."
- William Ford Jr., Chairman, Ford Motor Co.
Recruiting Participation in an Employee Volunteer Program
Building strong relationships is important in order to develop an effective partnership
between an employee volunteer program and a non-profit or community organization.
Some volunteer programs may be corporate-sponsored while others may be employee-
driven. (Merrill Associates, 2001)
Volunteers who represent a corporation can be recruited from the current employee base,
employee families, retirees, foundation members, advisory members, and community
When encouraging employee participation in a volunteer program beware of "overselling
the program" (Peterson, 2004). Employees will not respond well to feeling pressured to
participate and may end up not seeing the opportunity as "voluntary."
Employee volunteer programs benefit the corporation, employees, the community, and
local non-profit organizations. Employees, the corporation, or a non-profit organization
can initiate these programs. Employee volunteer programs can be successful as long as
there is a shared vision, mutual goals, valued work, with visibility and real benefits.
Implications for Extension Programs
There is a larger pool of potential volunteers than you imagined.
Employee volunteers can become a source of skill and expertise for special
Extension faculty will spend more time building networks and community
Extension faculty may spend less time on management of educational programs.
As local or national businesses partner with Extension, they also understand their
value and will be more likely to support county, state and national funding
For More Information
See EDIS publication FCS 9235.
Graff, L. (2004). Making a Business Case for Employer-Supported Volunteerism, Volunteer
Lautenschlager, J. (1993). Volunteering in the Workplace: How to Promote Employee
Volunteerism, Voluntary Action Directorate, Department of Canadian Heritage.
Merrill Associates: Strengthening Leaders, Organizations and Communities. (2001).
Building Relationships to Engage Corporate Volunteers. Retrieved May 6, 2005, from
National Work-Life Alliance. (2002). A Work-Life Tool: Leadership Development Through
Corporate Volunteerism: An Innovative Approach to Developing Innovative Leaders.
Retrieved May 18, 2005, from http://worklifealliance.org/tools/volunteer/index.cfm.
Points of Light Foundation. (1996). Developing a Corporate Volunteer Program.
Peterson, D. K. (2004). Recruitment strategies for Encouraging Participation in Corporate
Volunteer Programs. Journal of Business Ethics, 49, 371-386.
Co-parenting and Father Involvement
Suzanna D. Smith, Ph.D., Human Development
About half of all U.S. children will live apart from their fathers some time during their
childhood because their parents have divorced or separated. While some nonresidential
fathers do not maintain contact with their child, others are able to continue to be a part of
the child's life. A very important factor in whether a father remains involved seems to be
how the mother and father work out their co-parenting relationship after they split up.
Fathers may be involved in decisions about the child, have frequent contact, and be
involved in warm and supportive relationships with their children-or they may be fairly
distant or not involved at all.
A recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (Soblolewski & King,
2005) looked at co-parenting relationships between mothers and fathers living apart from
their biological children. Using data collected from a national sample of children and
custodial mothers, the researchers found that cooperative co-parenting is fairly
uncommon: 66% of mothers say that the father has no influence over childrearing and 58%
say that they get no help from the father in childrearing.
These results suggest, "many parents may find it difficult or even impossible to engage in
cooperative co-parenting after separation" (p. 1210). However, when they can cooperate,
fathers are able to have more frequent contact with their children and a more trusting and
supportive relationship. In fact, contact with children is the key to encouraging
nonresidential father involvement-fathers who have contact that is more frequent are
more involved. This supports other research that finds that father involvement has many
positive outcomes for children.
Sobolewski, J. M. & King, V. (2005). The importance of the coparental relationship for
nonresident fathers' ties to children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1196-1212.
Employee Education and Likelihood of Having a
Retirement Savings Program
To Turner, Ph.D., CFP, Family and Consumer Economics
The United States and even the world are concerned about retirement resources for future
generations. The effort to revamp the Social Security program is one example of this
concern. Other examples include employers who have spent the retiree's retirement to pad
their on pockets or trying to stay out of bankruptcy.
The literature shows that employers who match employee contributions have more
employees participating in the retirement savings program than employees participating
in programs where employers who don't provide for matching contributions. The authors
of this research sought to develop a model of factors that influenced savings behavior and
to find out (1) what factors were related to an individual having a retirement savings
program and (2) the relationship between having a retirement savings program and
confidence about their retirement.
Household Size (-)
Employer Education (+)
Higher than college degree HAVING A RETIREMENT SAVINGS
(+) PROGRAM Financial Behaviors and Attitudes
Income over $50,000 (+)
Pessimistic Retirement Attitude (-)
42.7% of the sample had in the previous 12 months received employer provided financial
education. Employees who had financial education at the work site were more likely than
those who had not received this information to have a retirement savings plan. In fact, the
odds of have a retirement savings plan increased three fold with employer provided
education.. The individual's financial confidence correlated to education at the worksite.
As the size of the household increased, the less likely the parents were to have a retirement
Respondents with $50,000 or more annual income were more likely to have a retirement
Respondents with higher education were more likely to have a retirement savings plan.
When accounting for income and family size, there was no difference between ethnic
Few employers provided financial education at the work place, but those who did found
that the payoffs were greater than the costs.
Implications for Extension Programming
Early in 2006, a multistate project will be launched to teach young employees 18-24 the
importance of saving for the future and retirement. This research can be used to introduce
employers to the project and encourage them to participate in the project by cosponsoring
with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service a series of lessons at the worksite. The
employer can provide space, refreshments, and even time for the employee to receive the
instructions. The employer can display posters and even put a brochure in the pay
envelope of the employee.
1A study by So-Hyun Joo and John E. Grable in the Journal of the Association of Financial
Counseling and Planning Education. Volume 16 (1), 2005.
Survivors of Natural Disasters and Mass Violence
Carolyn Wilken, Ph.D., Extension Gerontologist.
Young, B. H., Ford, J. L.C.S.W., Ford, J. D., & Watson, Survivors of natural
disasters and mass violence. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National
Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. Retrieved March 14, 2006 from
http: //www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts / disasters/fs survivors disaster.html
Each year millions of people around the world are impacted by natural and technological
disasters. While the immediate impact of hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, and terrorist
attacks are easily recognized by the physical and environmental destruction the
psychological impacts on the victims is often overlooked or is not manifest until months
following the disaster.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as a psychiatric disorder that can occur
after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event such as war, hurricanes, terrorist
incidents, serious accidents or personal attacks. Although most survivors return to normal
in time, some have stress reactions that are not easily resolved resulting in Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder. Symptoms of PTSD include, reliving the traumatic event through
nightmares and flashbacks, sleeping problems and feeling of detachment. Sometimes these
symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to impair the person's daily life in a
significant way. Physical and mental health problems associated with PTSD include
depression, substance abuse, memory problems, and other physical and mental health
problems. PTSD also affects its victim's social and family life, ability to function in the
work place, marital problems and divorce, family difficulties and problems with parenting.
The authors identify four types of reactions to PTSD:
*Emotional reactions: temporary (i.e., for several days or a couple of weeks) feelings
of shock, fear, grief, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, helplessness, hopelessness, or
emotional numbness (difficulty feeling love and intimacy or difficulty taking
interest and pleasure in day-to-day activities)
Cognitive reactions: confusion, disorientation, indecisiveness, worry, shortened
attention span, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, unwanted memories, self-
Physical reactions: tension, fatigue, edginess, difficulty sleeping, bodily aches or
pain, startling easily, racing heartbeat, nausea, change in appetite, change in sex
Interpersonal reactions, in relationships at school, work, in friendships, in
marriage, or as a parent: distrust; irritability; conflict; withdrawal; isolation; feeling
rejected or abandoned; being distant, judgmental, or over-controlling.
Predictors of increased risk for PTSD and lasting readjustment problems are greatest if the
victim either directly experienced or witnessed any of the following during or after the
Loss of loved ones or friends
Life threatening danger or physical harm (especially to children)
Exposure to gruesome death, bodily injury, or dead or maimed bodies
Extreme environmental or human violence or destruction
Loss of home, valued possessions, neighborhood, or community
Loss of communication with or support from close relations
Intense emotional demands (e.g., rescue personnel and caregivers searching for
possibly dying survivors or interacting with bereaved family members)
Extreme fatigue, weather exposure, hunger, or sleep deprivation
Extended exposure to danger, loss, emotional/physical strain
Exposure to toxic contamination (such as gas or fumes, chemicals, radioactivity)
Most people can 'handle' a single stressful event, but when the stress begins to 'pile up',
the individual's, or the family's ability to cope may become proportionally compromised.
How individuals, families, and communities respond to stressful event such as natural (or
man-made) disasters depends upon the resources that are available prior to and following
Role of Extension Faculty in Protecting Others & Themselves
Extension professionals often find themselves in the midst of disaster situations, such as
hurricanes-and personally at risk for PTSD. While there are often limitations on what can
and must happen 'on the scene', the authors recommend these tips as strategies to help
1. Protect: Find a safe haven that provides shelter; food and liquids; sanitation;
privacy; and chances to sit quietly, relax, and sleep at least briefly.
2. Direct: Begin setting and working on immediate personal and family priorities to
enable you and your significant others to preserve or regain a sense of hope,
purpose, and self-esteem.
3. Connect: Maintain or reestablish communication with family, peers, and counselors
in order to talk about your experiences. Take advantage of opportunities to "tell
your story" and to be a listener to others as they tell theirs, so that you and they can
release the stress a little bit at a time.
4. Select: Identify key resources, such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management
Agency), the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or the local and state health
departments, for clean up, health, housing, and basic emergency assistance.
Resources for Extension Faculty
EDEN Extension Disaster Education Network
National Center for Posttraumatic Distress: US Department of Veteran Affairs
National Institute of Mental Health
National Rural Behavioral Health Center at the University of Florida