PTSD and complex PTSD in adolescence: discriminating factors in a population-based cross-sectional study

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Ieva Daniunaite, Marylene Cloitre, Thanos Karatzias, Mark Shevlin, Siri Thoresen, Paulina Zelviene & Evaldas Kazlauskas


Background: Chronic and repeated trauma are well-established risk factors for complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in adult samples. Less is known about how trauma history and other factors contribute to the development of CPTSD in adolescence.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the potential contribution of trauma history and social factors to CPTSD in adolescents.

Method: In a cross-sectional community study of 1299 adolescents aged 12–16 years, PTSD (n = 97) and CPTSD (n = 108) was assessed with the Child and Adolescent version of the International Trauma Questionnaire (ITQ-CA). Trauma exposure, family functioning, school problems, and social support as potential discriminating factors between the PTSD and CPTSD groups were investigated.

Results: Cumulative trauma exposure did not discriminate between PTSD and CPTSD in this sample. CPTSD was associated with family problems (such as financial difficulties and conflicts in the home), school problems (bullying and learning difficulties), and lack of social support.

Conclusions: Our study indicates that factors other than cumulative trauma are important for the development of CPTSD in adolescence. Interventions targeting adolescent’s social environment both at home and at school may be beneficial.

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