Trauma Disorder Strikes Many Young Adults

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Trauma disorder strikes many young adults

Contrary to much psychiatric opinion, highly stressful experiences that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occur surprisingly often, at least among young adults living in a metropolitan region, according to a new study. In fact, in a random sample of 1,007 young adults, about 40 percent reported such experiences and 9 percent had developed PTSD at some time in their lives. This finding places PTSD among the more common psychiatric disorders of that age group, report psychologist Naomi Breslau of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and her colleagues.

The researchers say their work challenges the standard view, set forth in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual of mental disorders, that PTSD-inducing events lie "outside the range of usual human experience."

Symptoms of the disorder include recurring memories and dreams about a traumatic experience, emotional detachment from loved ones, extreme suspicion of others and difficulty concentrating.

Almost all previous PTSD studies have focused on people exposed to extreme stress, such as victims of natural disasters, combat veterans and former prisoners of war (SN: 2/2/91, p.68). Breslau's team now provides "a very valuable study that begins to establish an estimate of PTSD prevalence in the general population," says psychiatrist John E. Helzer of the University of Vermont School of Medicine in Burlington.

The scientists randomly interviewed 21- to 30-year-old members of a large health maintenance organization in the Detroit area. The sample represents working families of Detroit and its suburbs.

A total of 394 volunteers--40 percent of the sample -- described exposure to one or more traumatic events previously defined as "PTSD stressors," the researchers report in the March ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY. These stressors include a sudden injury or serious accident, physical assault or rape, seeing someone seriously hurt or killed, or receiving news of the sudden death of a close relative or friend. …