Heterogeneity of posttraumatic stress symptoms in bereaved children and adolescents: Exploring subgroups and possible risk factors

Psychiatry Research

Janna Keulen, Mariken Spuij, Maja Deković & Paul A. Boelen



Bereaved youths are at risk of developing posttraumatic stress (PTS), but there are large individual differences in presentation and severity of PTS symptoms among bereaved youths. The study sought to identify subgroups based on the distribution of self-rated loss-related PTS symptoms in a sample of 264 bereaved youths (aged 7–18). Based on latent class analysis, we identified three subgroups: no disturbance (37.9%), intermediate disturbance (39.0%) and pervasive disturbance (23.1%). Subgroups differed in PTS severity and symptom configuration. Specifically, avoidance was relatively more pronounced in bereaved youth with no and intermediate PTS disturbance, whereas emotional numbing was relatively more pronounced in bereaved youth with intermediate and pervasive PTS disturbance. Associations between subgroup membership, emotional stability and demographic and loss-related variables were also examined. Multinomial logistic regression indicated that youths in the pervasive disturbance subgroup reported lower emotional stability than youths in the no disturbance subgroup. Other variables were unrelated to subgroup membership. The study highlights the importance of considering the heterogeneity in PTS symptomatology in the diagnoses and treatment of loss-related traumatic stress in bereaved youth. Moreover, it underscores the need for further research on possible risk and protective factors involved in the maintenance and development of this traumatic stress.

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