We are currently experiencing the greatest refugee crisis since World War II (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2016). It is important to understand how war-related trauma impacts psychological and physiological health. The purpose of our review was to synthesize existing research that examines physiological indicators of stress (particularly cortisol) and the mental health consequences of war-related trauma. Cortisol is a physiological by-product of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal gland (HPA-axis) and has been widely used to measure stress reactions. The psychological variables of interest were Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), responses to reminder cues, coping strategies, and different types of trauma (e.g., concentration camps; war; rape) across development. All articles included in the review were found using the PsycINFO database. Articles were included if it was a published, peer-reviewed empirical article that included cortisol measurements (saliva or blood) in relation to psychological variables among war-related trauma participants (including refugees, but excluding veterans). Overall, results demonstrated decreases in cortisol levels in response to reminder cues and among participants with PTSD. Negative coping strategies were also associated with lower cortisol levels. More longitudinal research is needed on the physiological impact of trauma so that prevention and intervention programs intended to support these individuals are strengthened.
Abellera, Cierra, "Neuroendocrinology and Mental Health Consequences of War-Related Trauma: An Illustrative Review" (2017). 2017 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference.