Age of traumatization predicts depression and PTSD risk
18 Jun 2004
Psychiatry News

The age at which a person experiences a traumatic event may predict how likely they are to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression as a result, research suggests.
Andreas Maercker (University of Zurich, Switzerland) and colleagues found that there is a higher probability of developing major depressive disorder if a trauma is suffered during childhood than if the trauma occurs in adolescence.

For their study, the team interviewed 1966 women, aged between 18 and 45 years, with regard to their experience of traumatic events and the onset of PTSD and major depression.

The participants were then divided into two groups according to whether they had been exposed to trauma as a child (12 years of age or younger) or an adolescent (from age 13 years).

A quarter of the participants reported traumatic events that met the DSM criteria for an A1 event, which means that the traumatic event had involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.

The results, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed that rape and serious accident were associated with the highest and lowest probability of PTSD, at 43.3% and 2.5%, respectively.

Among the individuals exposed to trauma in childhood, the risks of developing PTSD and depression were 17.0% and 23.3%, respectively. This compared with corresponding rates of 13.3% and 6.5% for those who experienced traumatic events in adolescence.

The increased probability of developing major depressive disorder if trauma occurs in adolescence suggests that "traumatic experiences in children are processed differently from those in adults, resulting in a slightly different phenotype and sequelae of childhood PTSD," conclude the researchers in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Br J Psychiatry 2004; 184: 482–487