Predicting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has been detailing our increased ability to predict which people are more likely to develop posttraumatic stress disorder following a highly stressful event. Approximately 20% of children and adults develop PTSD subsequent to experiencing intense or severe stress. Here are some of the factors that are more likely to make you or your child part of the 80% of people who do not develop PTSD.

• “Easy Temperament” as a child
• Growing up in a family whose income is above the poverty line
• Having a parent with no history of a depressive disorder
• Having a stable home environment (i.e., fewer moves & infrequent separation from parents)
• Those who produce fewer stress hormones following a traumatic events
• People with at least Average IQ

Trauma is defined as an event that threatens the integrity, safety or life of the person involved. Childhood trauma involves physical, emotional or sexual abuse. It can also be caused by a life-threatening event such as a car accident, or other near-death experience. The symptoms of PTSD involve re-experiencing of a tramatic event through flashbacks and nightmares, conscious avoidance of stimuli surrounding the event, and increased physical arousal often marked by being easily startled.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is an unusual psychiatric diagnosis in that, unlike other diagnoses, it is recognized as stemming from a particular experiential event. The protective factors mentioned above are typically beyond the control of children. Thus, while they may give us either a sense of comfort or dread regarding the possibility that our child may develop PTSD, it is education, prevention, and financial and social support to families, that can help reduce the number of children that are threatened with the disorder in the first place.

You can read more about these studies here and about PTSD here.

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