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- Nearly a third of children have experienced trauma, and one in 13 suffers from PTSD.
- A study of 2,232 children in England and Wales found that those who suffer trauma are twice as likely to have mental health problems.
- Symptoms of PTSD include reliving negative and scary experiences, distressing nightmares, isolation, and irritability.
- Half of children with PTSD had self-harmed, and one in five had attempted suicide.
- But just one in five received the help they needed. The researchers said young people are “falling through the gaps in care.”
One in 13 young people could suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to research from King’s College London. The study, published in the journal The Lancet, found that 31% of children under 18 had suffered a traumatic experience, and those who do are twice as likely to have mental health problems.
More than 2,000 children born in England and Wales in 1994-1995 took part in the study, and were assessed with interviews.
The researchers concluded that one in four children who had experienced trauma had PTSD when they reported symptoms like reliving negative and scary experiences, distressing nightmares, avoidance of anything that reminded them of the trauma, isolation and detachment, irritability, impulsivity, guilt, and difficulty concentrating. That’s nearly 8% of young people overall.
The results also showed that just one in five children had seen a mental health professional and one in three had talked to their GP about their symptoms in the past year.
“Our findings should serve as a wake-up call,” said Andrea Danese, a senior researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. “Childhood trauma is a public health concern yet trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed.”
Young people with PTSD are “falling through the gaps in care,” she said, so there’s an urgent need for them to have better access to mental health services.
The results also showed how young people with PTSD were more likely to have other mental health disorders. For example, half had self-harmed, and one in five had attempted suicide. Half had also experienced social isolation or loneliness.
In December 2018, research from the Office for National Statistics found that 11.3% of children said that they were often lonely, and those who reported low satisfaction with their relationships were more likely to feel alone.
Last July, Childline – a counseling service for young people – said it had received nearly 5,000 calls about loneliness in a year. This was a 14% rise on the previous year.
“Young people who have been exposed to trauma often have complex problems, which become increasingly difficult to assess and treat,” said Stephanie Lewis, a clinical research training fellow at the IoPPN, and lead author of the study. “Providing effective treatments early on could prevent mental health problems continuing into adulthood.”
PTSD can be caused by a range of experiences, from directly experiencing assault, injury, or sexual violation, to watching it happen to someone else. Three-quarters of young people who experienced sexual assault developed PTSD.
The researchers said better identification of the symptoms of PTSD is vital if more young people are going to get the mental health help they need.
“We encourage parents and carers to seek support from health professionals if their children are exposed to trauma and are suffering from distressing psychological symptoms,” said Lewis.