A new study suggests one in 13 young people in the UK have had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before reaching age 18.
The study found 31 percent of young people had a traumatic experience during childhood, and those who were exposed to trauma were twice as likely as their peers to have a range of mental health disorders.
For the study, researchers at King’s College London looked at participants in the E-Risk Study, funded by the Medical Research Council, which includes 2,232 children born in England and Wales in 1994-1995.
Trauma exposure and PTSD were assessed at age 18 by structured interviews. One in four young people exposed to trauma met the criteria for PTSD, according to the study’s findings.
Young people in the study were exposed to a wide range of traumas, from directly experiencing assault, injury or sexual violation to “network trauma,” a traumatic event affecting someone the young person knew, which they learned about but did not directly witness.
The risk of developing PTSD was greatest after a direct interpersonal assault or threat, with sexual assault being a particularly high risk. According to the study’s findings, 74 percent of young people experiencing sexual assault developed PTSD.
People with PTSD suffer from a range of symptoms, including reliving traumatic events through distressing memories or nightmares; avoidance of anything reminding them of their trauma; feelings of guilt, isolation or detachment; and irritability, impulsivity or difficulty concentrating.
The study also discovered that only a minority of young people who had developed PTSD received help from health professionals. One in three talked to their GP about their mental health in the last year, and one in five saw a mental health professional, according to the study’s findings.
“Our findings should serve as a wake-up call — childhood trauma is a public health concern yet trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed,” said Senior Researcher Professor Andrea Danese from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN).
“Young people with PTSD are falling through the gaps in care and there is a pressing need for better access to mental health services. Child and adolescent mental health services need to make more resources available to address the needs of traumatized young people.”
Young people in the study who developed PTSD also had high rates of other mental health disorders, according to the study’s findings, which showed three in four had another mental health condition at age 18.
They were also at high risk of harm to themselves — half had self-harmed and one in five attempted suicide since age 12, the study discovered.
One in four were also not in education, employment, or training (NEET) at age 18, and half experienced social isolation or loneliness.
“Young people who have been exposed to trauma often have complex problems, which become increasingly difficult to assess and treat,” said Dr. Stephanie Lewis, lead researchers and MRC Clinical Research Training Fellow at the IoPPN. “Providing effective treatments early on could prevent mental health problems continuing into adulthood.”
The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Source: King’s College London