Trauma Exposure and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in a National Sample of Adolescents

Adolescent girls with behavior disorders who have been raped, kidnapped, or sexually assaulted, are at risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


The Issue:
Adolescent exposure to potentially traumatic experiences (PTEs) vary by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after PTE exposure and is associated with persistent mental disorders and substance abuse.

In this study, researchers examined lifetime exposure to interpersonal violence, accidents, injuries, and witnessing other PTEs.

Key Findings

  • Some 61.8 percent of adolescents experienced a lifetime PTE, most commonly the unexpected death of a loved one, man-made/natural disasters, and witnessing death or serious injury.

  • Lifetime prevalence of PTSD was higher among females (7.3%) than males (2.2%), and among adolescents not living with both biological parents and with pre-existing behavior disorders. Rape was associated with highest probability of PTSD (39.3%) followed by kidnapping (37.0%), and sexual assault (31.3%).

  • Poverty, being born in the United States, and having bipolar disorder were associated with low odds of recovery.

Interventions to prevent PTSD should be targeted at victims of interpersonal violence with pre-existing fear and stress disorders.

About the Study:
Data was drawn from 6,483 adolescent-parent pairs in a national survey of adolescents ages 13 to 17 years old.