Objective: The prevalence of DSM-III-R traumas and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their impact on psychosocial functioning were examined in a community population of older adolescents.
Methods: Subjects were 384 adolescents participating in an ongoing longitudinal study. When subjects were aged 18 years, the NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule, Version IIIR, was used to identify lifetime traumatic events and diagnoses of PTSD, major depression, phobias, and substance dependence. Behavioral, emotional, and academic functioning in later adolescence was evaluated through self-report measures and school records.
Results: More than two fifths of adolescents experienced at least one DSM-III-R trauma by age 18 years; PTSD developed in 14.5% of these affected youths or 6.3% of the total sample. Youths with PTSD demonstrated widespread impairment at age 18, including more overall behavioral-emotional problems, interpersonal problems, academic failure, suicidal behavior, and health problems, as well as an increased risk for additional disorders. An equally striking finding was that youths who experienced traumas but did not develop PTSD also showed deficits in many of these areas when compared with their peers who had not experienced traumas.
Conclusions: The substantial risk faced by youths in community settings for experiencing traumas and PTSD, along with associated impairments in later adolescence, underscores the need for programs of prompt intervention.