PTSD symptom severity relates to cognitive and psycho-social dysfunctioning – a study with Congolese refugees in Uganda
Ainamani, Herbert E.
Olema, David K.
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Background: In the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), civilians have been heavily exposed to traumatic stressors. Traumatizing experiences cumulatively heighten the risk for trauma-related disorders, and with it affect cognitive and psycho-social functioning. Objectives: We aimed at investigating the association between trauma-related disorders and cognitive and psycho-social functioning and hypothesized that PTSD symptom severity would negatively correlate with executive functioning, working memory and psycho-social functioning in everyday life. Method: In total, 323 Congolese refugees (mean age: 31.3 years) who arrived in the Ugandan Nakivale refugee settlement after January 2012 were assessed regarding their exposure to traumatic events, PTSD symptom severity (posttraumatic symptom scale interview), executive functioning (Tower of London), working memory performance (Corsi block tapping task) and psycho-social dysfunctioning (Luo functioning scale). Results: Hierarchical regression analyses indicated a significant negative association between PTSD symptom severity and working memory (β = –0.32, p < 0.001), as well as executive functions (β = –0.19, p = 0.003). Furthermore, the impairment of psycho-social functioning in everyday life was positively related with PTSD symptom severity (β = 0.70, p < 0.001), and negatively with executive functioning (β = –0.15, p = 0.003). However, working memory performance was not significantly related to psycho-social dysfunctioning (β = 0.09, p > 0.05). Conclusion: Trauma survivors not only suffer from the core PTSD symptoms but also from impaired cognitive functioning. PTSD symptom severity seems furthermore to be related to impaired psycho-social functioning. Our findings suggest that trauma-related mental health problems may heighten the risk for poverty and lack of prospect and further aggravate the consequences of war and conflict.