By Rachel Moss
One in 13 young people in the UK experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before the age of 18, the first study of its kind has suggested.
Meanwhile, almost a third (31%) say they have gone through a traumatic childhood experience, the King’s College London research found. Senior researcher Professor Andrea Danese said the findings should serve as a “wake-up call” that many young people are failing to get the support they need.
The study, published in journal The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at more than 2,000 children born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1995.
Of the 7.8% who experienced PTSD before turning 18, only one fifth (20.6%) said they had received help from a mental health professional in the last year.
[Read more: What is PTSD? Symptoms and treatment explained]
The study found those who were exposed to a traumatic event before the age of 18 were twice as likely as their peers to have a range of mental health disorders.
Overall, almost a third of young people surveyed (29.2%) had a major depressive episode and 8.3% had attempted suicide. But for those with PTSD, this rose to one in five (20.1%) who had attempted suicide and 54.7% who had experienced a major depressive episode.
Traumatic experiences included direct experience of assault, injury or sexual violation, but also “network trauma” – events which affected someone the young people knew, but which they did not witness in person. Symptoms of PTSD include distressing memories or nightmares, avoiding things which remind someone of trauma, and feelings of guilt, isolation and detachment.
“Childhood trauma is a public health concern, yet trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed,” Prof Danese said. “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 need to make more resources available to address the needs of traumatised young people.”
Dr Tim Dalgleish, from the University of Cambridge, said the results of the “landmark study” were “sobering”.
“Of particular concern is the relatively small proportion of affected youth who go on to access formal support or mental health services,” he said. “The findings are a further wake-up call that service provision in the UK for children and adolescents dealing with the aftermath of trauma is woefully inadequate.”
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