COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Traumatic events and posttraumatic stress in childhood

William E Copeland, Gordon Keeler, Adrian Angold, E Jane Costello
Archives of General Psychiatry 2007, 64 (5): 577-84
17485609

CONTEXT: Traumatic events are common and are related to psychiatric impairment in childhood. Little is known about the risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across different types of trauma exposure in children.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the developmental epidemiology of potential trauma and posttraumatic stress (PTS) in a longitudinal community sample of children.

METHODS: A representative population sample of 1420 children aged 9, 11, and 13 years at intake were followed up annually through 16 years of age. Main Outcome Measure Traumatic events and PTS were assessed from child and parent reports annually to 16 years of age. Risk factors and DSM-IV disorders were also assessed.

RESULTS: More than two thirds of children reported at least 1 traumatic event by 16 years of age, with 13.4% of those children developing some PTS symptoms. Few PTS symptoms or psychiatric disorders were observed for individuals experiencing their first event, and any effects were short-lived. Less than 0.5% of children met the criteria for full-blown DSM-IV PTSD. Violent or sexual trauma were associated with the highest rates of symptoms. The PTS symptoms were predicted by previous exposure to multiple traumas, anxiety disorders, and family adversity. Lifetime co-occurrence of other psychiatric disorders with traumatic events and PTS symptoms was high, with the highest rates for anxiety and depressive disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: In the general population of children, potentially traumatic events are fairly common and do not often result in PTS symptoms, except after multiple traumas or a history of anxiety. The prognosis after the first lifetime trauma exposure was generally favorable. Apart from PTSD, traumatic events are related to many forms of psychopathology, with the strongest links being with anxiety and depressive disorders.

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