Is life stress more traumatic than traumatic stress?

J Anxiety Disord. 2005;19(6):687-98. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2004.06.002.


This study explored the definition of a traumatic stressor, as it currently stands in the DSM-IV-TR, and the relationship between this definition and psychological symptomatology. Four hundred and fifty-four college undergraduates completed measures assessing psychopathology and exposure to trauma. Individuals were then divided into two groups, those who reported a traumatic event that was consistent with the DSM Criterion A1 definition and those who reported a traumatic event that was inconsistent with the definition. Surprisingly, the latter group reported significantly greater severity of PTSD symptomatology than those who reported a Criterion A1 PTSD event. In addition, significantly more people in the DSM trauma-incongruent group met criteria for PTSD than those in the DSM trauma-congruent group. Nearly two-thirds of the DSM trauma-incongruent group identified the death or illness of a loved one as their traumatic experience. The results are discussed within the context of the ongoing controversy over PTSD Criterion A1.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • New England / epidemiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology