Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Teenage Trauma

Adolescent America and post-traumatic stress—why is it so common?

Exposure to interpersonal violence is taking a toll on adolescent
America. A study has found that roughly 16 percent of boys and 19
percent of girls may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
major depressive episodes, or substance abuse. Witnessing violence,
physical abuse or sexual abuse significantly increased the risk of all
three disorders.

Lead researcher Dean Kilpatrick and his colleagues at the
National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical
University of South Carolina interviewed 4,023 young people aged 12 to 17
by telephone. The researchers collected a range of information from their
volunteers, including demographic and family data, history of trauma, and
signs of psychological problems.

A surprisingly large fraction of these adolescents suffered from
some kind of disorder. Kilpatrick and his colleagues found that 7.4
percent of the boys and 13.9 percent of the girls met the criteria for
major depression at some point during the previous six months. Within the
previous year, the rate of substance abuse or dependence was 8.2 percent
among the boys and 6.2 percent among girls.

The researchers were particularly struck by the prevalence of PTSD:
Nearly four percent of boys and over six percent of girls met the
diagnostic criteria for the condition.

About four in ten interview subjects reported that they had either
experienced or witnessed interpersonal violence first-hand. Those teens
had a much higher risk for the disorders.

The data strengthen the view that a large fraction of American
youths encounter traumatic events and experience significant emotional
responses as a result. "That these prevalences exist among adolescents is
definitely a cause for concern," says Kilpatrick.