Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) vary widely during the first year of college for students who have experienced previous trauma, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo (UB). And while many freshmen with strong traits of resilience can heal on their own, others will experience a slower recovery, particularly those who turn to alcohol.
Young adults with PTSD are at greater risk for problem drinking and other harmful behaviors that can potentially make symptoms worse, according to Jennifer Read, a professor in UB’s Department of Psychology and corresponding author of the paper published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, and Policy.
“You have a group of young people exposed to some trauma who are away from many of the things that would otherwise provide them with support,” said Read. “Even those who are commuting have still entered into a new way of life.”
For the study, researchers analyzed a group of 649 freshman who had suffered some form of previous trauma, using a 17-question form designed to assess PTSD symptoms in civilians. According to their answers, the students were categorized into three segments: those with severe symptoms, moderate symptoms, or no symptoms.
Each student was evaluated an additional five times during the year — three times during their first semester and twice during their second semester.
The researchers found that PTSD symptoms were more likely to either worsen or get better in the students’ first year of college. However, as the students progressed through their freshman year, they became more fixed in their categories, a finding that points to the possible benefits of early intervention.
“This is relevant to college administrators for a few different reasons,” says Read. “One is to know that there is a class of students whose symptoms are getting worse or staying bad. While students are first transitioning the symptoms are the most malleable. So early detection and intervention are important. If these people can be identified, then outreach could be provided.”
Many of the students, however, perceived their symptoms moderate, a finding that informs researchers on how people recover naturally, according to Read.
“It’s encouraging that people with PTSD symptoms are getting better on their own,” says Read. “Resilience is common in human behavior. People can have bad things happen to them, but will most likely be okay. It doesn’t mean they won’t affected, or that they won’t be changed in some way, but they will probably be okay.”
Although resolution of PTSD symptoms was the most common pattern in the study’s participants, Read cautions that there is a subset of people who arrive as college freshman with PSTD and see no change in their condition.
“Drinking affects this,” says Read, who has conducted previous research on the intersection of PTSD and alcohol consumption. “If someone is drinking regularly or excessively, the likelihood is less that they’ll move from a high category to a lower category.”
Source: University at Buffalo