Most news about PTSD focuses on the struggles of returning combat veterans as they reintegrate into society. However, teens are at risk for PTSD as well. A new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (a dataset on mental disorders in the US) to identify risk factors of PTSD in teens.

The researchers reviewed data from 6,483 teen-parent pairs. They determined that 61% of teens aged 13 to 17 had experienced a potentially traumatic event such as a national disaster, rape, abuse, or witnessing domestic violence. Moreover, 19% had experienced three or more traumatic events.

The greatest risk factors associated with trauma exposure were found to be a lack of both biological parents in the home or pre-existing mental disorders—especially ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder.

Although they examined data from thousands of teens exposed to trauma, only a little over 300 (4.7%) were considered as having PTSD according to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. The risk factors for a PTSD diagnosis included being female, interpersonal violence, or anxiety or mood disorders. Girls had a lifetime prevalence of PTSD of 7.3%, with boys at only 2.2%. Teens who had been raped had a lifetime prevalence of PTSD of 39% and teens abused by a caregiver had 25%. Anxiety and mood disorders, a risk factor for exposure, were also a risk factor for PTSD.

The researchers also found that bipolar disorder, exposure to more traumatic events, living in poverty, or being a U.S. native were risk factors for being unable to recover from PTSD.

By illuminating the risk factors for PTSD in teens, this research suggests ways that teens developing PTSD can be identified in order to receive appropriate interventions.

This research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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