Post-traumatic stress as a pathway to psychopathology among adolescents at high-risk for victimization

Child Abuse Negl. 2017 May;67:182-192. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.02.025.


Objective: Victimization by violence elevates adolescents' risk for developing internalizing and externalizing psychopathology. Recent findings suggest that disruptions in developmental processes associated with post-traumatic stress (PTS) reactions may partially account for the relationship between victimization and the subsequent development of psychopathology during adolescence. The present study tested the temporal sequencing of these associations using multi-informant measurements in a large, diverse sample of adolescents at high-risk for victimization.

Method: Data were collected from a multi-site consortium of prospective studies, the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN). Information about 833 youth's victimization experiences (i.e., direct, indirect, familial, and non-familial violence), PTS, and affective, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD) symptoms were gathered from youth and their caregivers during biannual face-to-face interviews when youth were between the ages of 4 and 14 years, and continuously from official child protective services records.

Results: Structural equation modeling revealed that cumulative victimization contributed to elevations in youth and caregiver reported late childhood and early adolescent psychopathology. While PTS mediated the association between victimization and youth reported ADHD, ODD, CD, major depressive, and generalized anxiety symptoms during adolescence, it only mediated the association between victimization and caregiver reported affective symptoms.

Conclusions: PTS reactions following childhood victimization partially accounted for escalations in psychopathology during the transition to adolescence. These findings underscore the importance of integrating trauma-informed assessment and intervention approaches with at-risk adolescents. Researchers should determine whether trauma-focused interventions sufficiently ameliorate other psychopathology among victimized adolescents or if additional interventions components are necessary.

Keywords: Adolescent psychopathology; Child maltreatment; Childhood victimization; Poly-victimization; Post-traumatic stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bullying
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Protective Services
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychopathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Violence / psychology