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Home > Research Articles > High percentage of youth in the U.S. report symptoms of posttraumatic stress and other disorders.


Monday, August 4, 2003

Study Involving 4,023 Adolescents Finds That Exposure To Interpersonal Violence Increases The Risk For PTSD

WASHINGTON — The carefree days of youth apparently aren’t so carefree anymore – if they ever were – according to the results of a new study of America’s adolescents. The study, involving 4,023 youth (ages 12-17) interviewed by telephone, finds that roughly 16 percent of boys and 19 percent of girls met the criteria for at least one of the following diagnosis: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive episode and substance abuse/dependence. The findings appear in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Study lead author Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D. and colleagues from the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina were particularly struck by the prevalence of PTSD in the national sample of adolescents. “Nearly four percent of the boys (3.7%) and over six percent of the girls (6.3%) reported PTSD symptoms during the preceding six months, indicating that a high percentage of youth in the United States encounter traumatic events and experience significant emotional responses associated with these events,” according to Dr. Kilpatrick.

The study also finds that within the six-month period prior to the telephone survey, prevalence for major depression was 7.4% for boys and 13.9% for girls, and prevalence for substance abuse/dependence during the past year was 8.2% for boys and 6.2% for girls. Nearly three fourths of all the adolescents who met the criteria for PTSD also met the criteria for major depression, substance abuse/dependence or both.

Interpersonal violence (i.e., sexual and physical assault, witnessed violence) increased the risk of PTSD, major depressive episode and substance abuse/dependence after controlling for demographic factors and family substance use problems, according to the study. This finding adds to the growing body of research establishing a link between interpersonal violence and mental health outcomes.

The risk for the mental health disorders increased with age; older adolescents met the criteria for the three diagnoses more often than the younger adolescents. However, the findings suggest that older adolescents also were more likely than younger adolescents to report family alcohol and drug use problems, witnessed violence, sexual assault, and physical assault, say the researchers.

Parental permission was obtained to interview the adolescents and the researchers took steps to increase the likelihood that the participants answered the study questions in an open and honest manner, including making sure the adolescents had privacy during the interview.

Additional research with longitudinal design is needed, say the authors, to capture patterns of adolescent victimization experiences and mental health problems over time, which will improve intervention efforts.

Article: “Violence and Risk of PTSD, Major Depression, Substance Abuse/Dependence, and Comorbidity: Results From the National Survey of Adolescents,” Dean G. Kilpatrick, Kenneth J. Ruggiero, Ron Acierno, Benjamin E. Saunders, Heidi S. Resnick, and Connie L. Best, Medical University of South Carolina; Journal Of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 71, No. 4.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/ccp/press_releases/august_2003/ccp714692.html.

Reporters: Lead author Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., can be reached at (843) 792-2945 or by Email.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.