Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Adults

We all suffer tragedies in our lives. Relatives pass away, couples divorce, businesses fail. When these events happen suddenly, they can produce trauma. Are some individuals more susceptible to trauma than others? Yes. Other things being equal, individuals with severe mental disorders are at the top of the list of those most vulnerable to trauma. This would include schizophrenics, major depressive disorders, and certain personality disorders.

Post traumatic stress disorder is a type of response to trauma that is caused by life threatening events. Vulnerability will be determined by the magnitude of the event, the proximity to it, or the frequency and length of exposure to previous stress inducing events. As an example, most of us would be symptomatic if we encountered up close and personal a major stressor such as a natural disaster or near fatal auto accident.

Psychological trauma can be compared to the symptoms of physical shock. The mind shuts down. There is at times a partial or full amnesia of the traumatic event. Classic symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder include recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event, distressing dreams, intense psychological stress to cues symbolizing the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, and increased arousal. Sometimes the onset of PTSD can be delayed for as much as 6 months.

In general, pre-trauma factors are not nearly as important as those operating during and after the trauma. Brown, Andrews, and Valentine did a thorough meta-analysis of studies involving PTSD. The only significant pre-trauma factor was sex, and only in a non-military population. Females are at greater risk. The authors conclude that it may be premature to identify a common set of predisposing factors for PTSD. As to both traumatic and post-traumatic factors, it was clear that trauma severity, lack of social support, and greater post-trauma life stress all contributed to the development of PTSD.

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