A longitudinal study published in Brain and Behavior surveyed victims of the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris, France over a four and a half year period. The researchers found that survivors with greater trait mindfulness presented with fewer PTSD symptoms following the attack, whether they were observed 6 months, 18 months, 30 months, or 54 months after the attack.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event, such as combat, terrorism, or abuse. The condition can include intense flashbacks, nightmares, and feelings of guilt and has been associated with substance abuse, depression, and suicide.
Psychology scholars have tested various mental health interventions in the hopes of identifying ways to prevent the development of PTSD among trauma survivors. But study authors Lionel Gibert and his colleagues note that few studies have adopted a mindfulness approach to the treatment of trauma. The researchers opted to conduct a study of their own to explore whether mindfulness — a highly trainable trait — would be associated with PTSD symptomology among victims of trauma.
Gibert and his team recruited 133 survivors of the Bataclan terrorist attack in France. The attack took place in November of 2015, when armed terrorists opened fire in a concert hall in Paris, killing 130 spectators and injuring 450. Over a period of four and a half years, the recruited survivors completed online surveys that included questions about their experience on the night of the attack and assessments for PTSD symptoms and trait mindfulness. The evaluations took place 6 months, 18 months, 30 months, and 54 months after the attack.
Overall, the prevalence of PTSD symptomology was high among the survivors. At the six-month mark, 77% of participants met the cut-off for a PTSD diagnosis, and at 4.5 years, 41% still met this cut-off.
Because subjects were followed over time, the researchers were able to identify different trajectories of PTSD symptoms. This revealed three different groups: about 30% of survivors met criteria for PTSD all throughout the observation, 21% never met criteria for PTSD, and nearly half (49%) experienced PTSD symptoms that steadily declined over time.
Remarkably, it was discovered that trait mindfulness was strongly, negatively linked to PTSD scores at every assessment. The researchers additionally tested certain variables that might be associated with PTSD symptoms, such as whether or not the victim was wounded, whether they had consumed alcohol during the event, and whether they had a history of trauma. None of these factors were significantly related to PTSD scores at all four assessments.
The practice of mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting what comes without judgment. The authors express that mindfulness training has been found to help people manage their emotions, accept unpleasant events, and lower their arousal — three skills that address key symptoms of PTSD, such as anxiety and avoidance.
While people differ in their inclination toward mindfulness, evidence suggests that the trait can be developed through training. While additional research is needed, the study suggests that mindfulness training may be beneficial for treating patients with PTSD and might even help prevent PTSD symptoms among victims of trauma.
“Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is an established program that integrates both attention monitoring and acceptance,” Gibert and his colleagues explain. “It has been found to have a positive impact on anxiety and mood disorder, independent of diagnosis (Khoury et al., 2015), and could, therefore, be a useful tool in primary and secondary prevention.”
The study, “The negative association between trait mindfulness and post-traumatic stress disorder: A 4.5-year prospective cohort study”, was authored by Lionel Gibert, Wissam El Hage, Charles Verdonk, Bernard Levy, Bruno Falissard, and Marion Trousselard.