Of all 18-year-olds in England and Wales one in 13 have had post-traumatic stress disorder at some point, half of those within the previous 12 months, researchers have said.
The study’s findings have been met with alarm among experts, who raised concerns that few of the young people who experienced trauma accessed support for their mental health from medical professionals.
Nearly 100,000 children are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of severe bullying and violence, researchers have warned.
The first comprehensive study of the issue in Britain found 7.8 per cent of people under the age of 18 are living with the condition more commonly associated with veteran soldiers.
Researchers say, with many young people not receiving the support they need, the study should be a “wake-up call”.
The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found slightly more than half of those who had had PTSD – an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events – had also experienced a major depressive episode and one in five had attempted suicide.
But only the same proportion – one in five – had been seen by a mental health professional in the past year.
The study, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, uses data from a wider research endeavour which tracked the health of 1,116 pairs of same-sex twins – or 2,232 children – born in England and Wales in the mid-1990s. Face to face assessments were carried out at regular intervals, with exposure to trauma and presence of PTSD and other mental health problems assessed through interviews when participants were 18 years old.
The results reveal that just over 31% of the 2,064 participants who completed the interviews at 18 had experienced trauma at some point in their life, ranging from car accidents and sexual assault to bullying and the death of someone close.
All but one answered questions relating to PTSD, with the results showing a quarter of those exposed to traumatic events had the condition at some point in their life – just under 8% of all participants. While some of these participants had apparently recovered, more than half had experienced PTSD within the past year.
The team noted the condition was most common among those who had been assaulted or threatened, particularly those who had experienced sexual assault or other violence.
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.
“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.”
My Medical Mantra spoke to a psychiatrist to know how PTSD is affecting children. Dr Sagar Mundada, a psychiatrist from Health Spring Clinic stated, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. There has been a huge impact on the mind of such an individual. An accident or a death of a person can trigger PTSD. This problem is not only seen in older people but also in younger children.”
He added, “This problem can appear in children who are 15 years of age. In children, sexual harassment is causing this problem to increase. Parents should pay attention to their children and if they begin showing unusual behaviour then they should immediately consult a psychiatrist.”