Stressful Life Events and PTSD Symptomatology: The Moderating Effect of Coping Resources Among Incarcerated Older Adults

Lindsay Koskinen, Fordham University


The population of incarcerated older adults is growing internationally; the numbers are particularly high in the United States and the associated cost is staggering. The current crisis in our overcrowded prison system demands that we find more effective ways to reduce criminal behavior and recidivism rates by providing more effective mental health treatment both in the community and within the prison system. It is well established that a significant number of prison inmates have histories of stressful and traumatic experiences that play a role in their current mental health statuses and PTSD symptomatology. Attachment theory and coping theory may provide useful conceptual frameworks to better understand how individuals cope with traumatic experiences. Many individuals turn to God during times of crises in their lives. This dissertation investigated the relationship between a history of stressful life experiences and PTSD symptomatology among incarcerated older adults. It was a secondary data analysis of the cross-sectional data collected for the Risk and Resilience Project Survey. Data were collected in September 2010 from prisoners in the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJ DOC). The study examined the role that coping resources play in moderating the level of PTSD, paying particular attention to spirituality and religious coping. Four outcome variables were analyzed- total PTSD symptomatology, intrusion symptom clusters, avoidance symptom clusters and arousal symptom clusters. A bivariate analysis included the predictor variables, sociodemographic variables, and other variables of interest across level of post-traumatic stress. The results show that higher scores on cognitive, social, physical, emotional and spiritual coping are each significantly associated with reduced levels of PTSD symptomatology. Utilizing hierarchical linear regression analyses, controlling for demographic variables, several significant relationships emerged. An extensive history of cumulative trauma and stressful life events (LSC) was a significant predictor of a higher level of PTSD symptomatology. Interaction tests showed that the strength and nature of the relationship between lifetime stress and PTSD symptoms changed as a function of the level of coping resource. For each type of coping resource, there was a strong correlation between lifetime stress and PTSD symptoms when the level of coping resource was low, while the correlation was weaker when the level of coping resource was high, providing evidence for the buffering effect of coping resources. Spiritual coping resources had a positive effect on PTSD symptomatology. Because Spiritual coping has the potential to reduce level of suffering while incarcerated, the implications of this research suggest that practitioners in prison settings should investigate therapeutic programs which incorporate a religious/spiritual component to increase the likelihood for a successful reintegration into the community and decrease the likelihood for re-incarceration.

Subject Area

Social research|Mental health|Social work|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Koskinen, Lindsay, "Stressful Life Events and PTSD Symptomatology: The Moderating Effect of Coping Resources Among Incarcerated Older Adults" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10153692.