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PTSD in young people 'wake-up call'

Friday February 22nd, 2019

One in 13 young people in the UK has suffered post-traumatic disorder – and almost one third has had a traumatic experience – before they reach the age of 18, the first UK study of its kind reports today.

Researchers at King's College London also found that those who were exposed to trauma were twice as likely as their peers to have a range of mental health disorders.

Senior researcher Professor Andrea Danese from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) said the findings, published in the latest edition of The Lancet Psychiatry, should serve as a wake-up call to mental health teams, who need more resources for CAMHS to help young people in need.

The researchers examined the E-Risk Study, which is funded by the Medical Research Council and includes 2,232 children born in England and Wales in 1994-1995.

Structured interviews were carried out when participants were 18 years of age to assess trauma exposure and PTSD. One in four young people exposed to trauma met the criteria for PTSD and 74% of young people experiencing sexual assault developed PTSD.

However, only a minority of young people with PTSD received professional help. One in three talked to their GP about their mental health in the last year, and one in five saw a mental health professional.

Three in four of the young people with PTSD were found to have had another mental health condition at age 18, while half had self-harmed and one in five had attempted suicide since the age of 12.

One in four was classed as NEET (not in education, employment, or training) at age 18, and half experienced social isolation or loneliness.

Prof Andrea Danese said: “Our findings should serve as a wake-up call - childhood trauma is a public health concern yet trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed. Young people with PTSD are falling through the gaps in care and there is a pressing need for better access to mental health services.

"Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) need to make more resources available to address the needs of traumatised young people.”

Young people in the study were exposed to a wide range of traumas, from directly experiencing assault, injury or sexual violation to 'network trauma'. The risk of developing PTSD was greatest after a direct interpersonal assault, threat or sexual assault.

Dr Rachael Panizzo, who leads on mental health at the Medical Research Council, added: “Better identification of young people at risk of developing PTSD is needed as intervening early to treat mental health conditions can help minimise the wide range of negative impacts on young people's lives.

"This study highlights a gap in treatment for young people with PTSD and takes steps to improve our understanding of which individuals might be most susceptible.”

Lewis et al. The epidemiology of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in a representative cohort of young people in England and Wales. The Lancet Psychiatry 22 February 2019; doi: 10.1016/PIIS2215-0366(19)30031-8

Tags: Infancy to Adolescence | Mental Health | UK News

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