Prevalence and characteristics of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in female prisoners in China

Guoping Huang, Yalin Zhang, Shakeh Momartin, Yuping Cao, Lan Zhao
Comprehensive Psychiatry 2006, 47 (1): 20-9

OBJECTIVE: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its relationship with a range of traumatic events have previously been documented within various traumatized groups in Western countries. In the present study, the authors investigated the relationship between the frequency and type of traumatic events and the prevalence of PTSD among female prisoners in China.

METHOD: A structured psychiatric interview, the self-report Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire, and Symptom Checklist-90-Revised were administered to a subset of 471 female members who were randomly selected from Hunan female prison, China. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) diagnoses were assigned by consensus after the interviews were evaluated by independent raters.

RESULTS: The prevalences of lifetime and current PTSD were 15.9% (n = 75) and 10.6% (n = 50), and 82% (n = 386) of the subjects had experienced at least 1 traumatic event. The whole sample was divided into 2 groups according to age: the younger group (age < or =25 years) and the older group (age >25 years) . The most predictive factor for lifetime PTSD among the younger age group was the experience of sudden death of a close friend or a loved one, childhood physical abuse, intimate partner abuse, and sexual abuse before the age of 13 years by someone at least 5 years older. For the older group, the most predictive factors were a history of motor traffic accident, sudden death of a close friend or a loved one, severe assault by acquaintance or stranger, witness to family violence, having experienced more than 5 traumatic events, intimate partner abuse, and sexual abuse before the age of 13 years by someone at least 5 years older. Those females with PTSD tended to demonstrate higher levels of anger/hostility or interpersonal sensitivity than those without either partial or full diagnosis.

CONCLUSIONS: In this sample of female prisoners in China, although exposure to traumatic events was common and the rate is nearly as high as that in western countries, the prevalences of lifetime and current PTSD were relatively lower. Moreover, the prevalence of current PTSD among younger prisoners was significantly higher than that among older prisoners. The risk of developing lifetime PTSD was significantly greater only for older prisoners with a history of more than 5 traumatic events, whereas the types of specific traumatic events with the risk of developing lifetime PTSD among younger prisoners were similar to that among older prisoners. Administering specialized treatments for anger dyscontrol and interpersonal sensitivity may be useful for rehabilitation and reform of female prisoners.

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