Posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth in New Zealand Surf Lifesavers : an analysis of age, gender, social support, & self-efficacy : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, New Zealand
Introduction. New Zealand surf lifeguards are exposed to a range of potentially
traumatic events including search and rescue, trauma and medical care, and body
retrievals. Although extensive training is required and peer support programmes are in
place, little is known about the impact this work may have as there is a lack of
published literature focusing on surf lifeguards. Method: A cross-sectional online
survey was available to all current, paid and volunteer lifeguards, 17 years and older.
Information was gathered on personal and surf lifesaving trauma exposure,
posttraumatic stress symptoms, posttraumatic growth (PTG), perceived social support
and perceived self-efficacy. Statistical analyses were performed to explore hypothesized
relationships between these constructs and demographic variables. Results: A total of
181 lifeguards 17 years and older (M = 26.96, SD = 12.45), were included in the final
analysis. Males reported significantly higher trauma exposure, yet females presented
with higher posttraumatic stress symptoms. 7.8% of adolescents and 1.8% of adults
scored above 40 on the PTSD measure suggesting probable PTSD. Adolescent
participants reported both higher posttraumatic stress and PTG. Total trauma exposure,
including surf lifesaving events, failed to show a significant relationship with trauma
outcomes. However, personal traumatic events alone did show a small but significant
relationship with both posttraumatic stress and PTG. The expected relationships
between social support and self-efficacy with posttraumatic stress were not verified.
Social support and self-efficacy did show a small but significant positive relationship
with PTG. No moderation effect was found for either social support or self-efficacy.
Exploratory analysis did show that age moderated the relationship between trauma
exposure and both posttraumatic stress and PTG. Discussion. Results suggest that being
younger may facilitate PTG but it may also make some vulnerable to posttraumatic
stress symptoms under high trauma conditions. Traumatic events within Surf lifesaving
were not related to trauma outcomes suggesting that personal trauma may have a
stronger impact than lifeguard related trauma. The lack of evidence supporting the
impact of social support and self-efficacy may be due to limitations in the measures
used. Results and limitations are discussed with a focus on how this unique population
could benefit from future research.