PTSD after traumatic events: Which teens are at risk?

July 29, 2013

While most children cannot be shielded from emotionally traumatic events, clinicians can target those who are most vulnerable to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a large study from Boston Children's Hospital. Findings appear online in the August issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, accompanied by an editorial.

Researchers led by Katie McLaughlin, PhD, of the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at Boston Children's, analyzed data on 6,483 teen–parent pairs from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, a survey of the prevalence and correlates of mental disorders in the United States.

Overall, 61 percent of the (ages 13 to 17) had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in their lifetime, including interpersonal violence (such as rape, physical abuse or witnessing domestic violence), injuries, natural disasters and death of a close friend or family member. Nineteen percent had experienced three or more such events.

Risk factors associated most strongly with trauma exposure included:

  • Lack of both biological parents in the home.
  • Pre-existing mental disorders, particularly behavioral disorders like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder.

Of all teens exposed to trauma, 4.7 percent had experienced PTSD under DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. Risk factors for PTSD included:

  • Female gender: Of the total sample, girls had a lifetime prevalence of PTSD of 7.3 percent, and boys 2.2 percent.
  • Events involving interpersonal violence: the lifetime prevalence of PTSD was 39 percent for teens who had been raped and 25 percent for those physically abused by a caregiver.
  • Underlying anxiety and mood (also a risk factor for exposure).

Risk factors for lack of recovery from PTSD included underlying bipolar disorder, exposure to an additional traumatic event, living in poverty and being a U.S. native.

Explore further: Women who experience gender-based violence have higher incidence of anxiety, substance use disorders

Related Stories

Researchers examine new PTSD diagnosis criteria

September 5, 2012

Results of a study led by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System indicate that the proposed changes to the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder ...

Study identifies co-factors critical to PTSD development

April 3, 2013

Research led by Ya-Ping Tang, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has found that the action of a specific gene occurring during exposure to adolescent trauma ...

One in four stroke patients suffer PTSD

June 19, 2013

One in four people who survive a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the first year post-event, and one in nine experience chronic PTSD more than ...

Recommended for you

Repeating aloud to another person boosts recall

October 6, 2015

Repeating aloud boosts verbal memory, especially when you do it while addressing another person, says Professor Victor Boucher of the University of Montreal's Department of Linguistics and Translation. His findings are the ...

Men more likely to be seen as 'creative thinkers'

September 28, 2015

People tend to associate the ability to think creatively with stereotypical masculine qualities, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.