PTSD in soldiers may be connected to childhood trauma

New research on posttraumatic stress disorder in soldiers challenges popular assumptions about the origins and trajectory of PTSD, providing evidence that traumatic experiences in childhood – not combat – may predict which soldiers develop the disorder. More here
“The vast majority of the soldiers (84%) were resilient, showing no PTSD symptoms at all or recovering quickly from mild symptoms.

The rest of the soldiers showed distinct and unexpected patterns of symptoms. About 4% showed evidence of “new-onset” trajectory, with symptoms starting low and showing a marked increase across the five timepoints. Their symptoms did not appear to follow any specific traumatic event.

Most notably, about 13% of the soldiers in the study actually showed temporary improvement in symptoms during deployment. These soldiers reported significant symptoms of stress prior to leaving for Afghanistan that seemed to ease in the first months of deployment only to increase again upon their return home.

What could account for this unexpected pattern of symptoms?

Compared to the resilient soldiers, the soldiers who developed PTSD were much more likely to have suffered emotional problems and traumatic events prior to deployment. Childhood experiences of violence, especially punishment severe enough to cause bruises, cuts, burns, and broken bones actually predicted the onset of PTSD in these soldiers. Those who showed symptoms of PTSD were more likely to have witnessed family violence, and to have experienced physical attacks, stalking or death threats by a spouse. They were also more likely to have past experiences that they could not, or would not, talk about. And they were less educated than the resilient soldiers.

According to Berntsen and colleages, all of these factors together suggest that army life — despite the fact that it involved combat — offered more in the way of social support and life satisfaction than these particular soldiers had at home. The mental health benefits of being valued and experiencing camaraderie thus diminished when the soldiers had to return to civilian life.

The findings challenge the notion that exposure to combat and other war atrocities is the main cause of PTSD.”

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