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Traumatic events are common globally; however, comprehensive population-based cross-national data on the epidemiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the paradigmatic trauma-related mental disorder, are lacking.
Data were analyzed from 26 population surveys in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys. A total of 71 083 respondents ages 18+ participated. The Composite International Diagnostic Interview assessed exposure to traumatic events as well as 30-day, 12-month, and lifetime PTSD. Respondents were also assessed for treatment in the 12 months preceding the survey. Age of onset distributions were examined by country income level. Associations of PTSD were examined with country income, world region, and respondent demographics.
The cross-national lifetime prevalence of PTSD was 3.9% in the total sample and 5.6% among the trauma exposed. Half of respondents with PTSD reported persistent symptoms. Treatment seeking in high-income countries (53.5%) was roughly double that in low-lower middle income (22.8%) and upper-middle income (28.7%) countries. Social disadvantage, including younger age, female sex, being unmarried, being less educated, having lower household income, and being unemployed, was associated with increased risk of lifetime PTSD among the trauma exposed.
PTSD is prevalent cross-nationally, with half of all global cases being persistent. Only half of those with severe PTSD report receiving any treatment and only a minority receive specialty mental health care. Striking disparities in PTSD treatment exist by country income level. Increasing access to effective treatment, especially in low- and middle-income countries, remains critical for reducing the population burden of PTSD.
Research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following natural and human-made disasters has been undertaken for more than three decades. Although PTSD prevalence estimates vary widely, most are in the 20–40% range in disaster-focused studies but considerably lower (3–5%) in the few general population epidemiological surveys that evaluated disaster-related PTSD as part of a broader clinical assessment. The World Mental Health (WMH) Surveys provide an opportunity to examine disaster-related PTSD in representative general population surveys across a much wider range of sites than in previous studies.
Although disaster-related PTSD was evaluated in 18 WMH surveys, only six in high-income countries had enough respondents for a risk factor analysis. Predictors considered were socio-demographics, disaster characteristics, and pre-disaster vulnerability factors (childhood family adversities, prior traumatic experiences, and prior mental disorders).
Disaster-related PTSD prevalence was 0.0–3.8% among adult (ages 18+) WMH respondents and was significantly related to high education, serious injury or death of someone close, forced displacement from home, and pre-existing vulnerabilities (prior childhood family adversities, other traumas, and mental disorders). Of PTSD cases 44.5% were among the 5% of respondents classified by the model as having highest PTSD risk.
Disaster-related PTSD is uncommon in high-income WMH countries. Risk factors are consistent with prior research: severity of exposure, history of prior stress exposure, and pre-existing mental disorders. The high concentration of PTSD among respondents with high predicted risk in our model supports the focus of screening assessments that identify disaster survivors most in need of preventive interventions.
Considerable research has documented that exposure to traumatic events has negative effects on physical and mental health. Much less research has examined the predictors of traumatic event exposure. Increased understanding of risk factors for exposure to traumatic events could be of considerable value in targeting preventive interventions and anticipating service needs.
General population surveys in 24 countries with a combined sample of 68 894 adult respondents across six continents assessed exposure to 29 traumatic event types. Differences in prevalence were examined with cross-tabulations. Exploratory factor analysis was conducted to determine whether traumatic event types clustered into interpretable factors. Survival analysis was carried out to examine associations of sociodemographic characteristics and prior traumatic events with subsequent exposure.
Over 70% of respondents reported a traumatic event; 30.5% were exposed to four or more. Five types – witnessing death or serious injury, the unexpected death of a loved one, being mugged, being in a life-threatening automobile accident, and experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury – accounted for over half of all exposures. Exposure varied by country, sociodemographics and history of prior traumatic events. Being married was the most consistent protective factor. Exposure to interpersonal violence had the strongest associations with subsequent traumatic events.
Given the near ubiquity of exposure, limited resources may best be dedicated to those that are more likely to be further exposed such as victims of interpersonal violence. Identifying mechanisms that account for the associations of prior interpersonal violence with subsequent trauma is critical to develop interventions to prevent revictimization.
The relative importance of traumatic events (TEs) in accounting for the social burden of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could vary according to cross-cultural factors. In that sense, no such studies have yet been conducted in the Spanish general population. The present study aims to determine the epidemiology of trauma and PTSD in a Spanish community sample using the randomly selected TEs method.
The European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (ESEMeD)-Spain is a cross-sectional household survey of a representative sample of adult population. Lifetime prevalence of self-reported TEs and lifetime and 12-month prevalence of PTSD were evaluated using the World Health Organization (WHO) Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Reports of PTSD associated with randomly selected TEs were weighted by the individual-level probabilities of TE selection to generate estimates of population-level PTSD risk associated with each TE.
Road accident was the most commonly self-reported TE (14.1%). Sexual assault had the highest conditional risk of PTSD (16.5%). The TEs that contributed most to societal PTSD burden were unexpected death of a loved one (36.4% of all cases) and sexual assault (17.2%). Being female and having a low educational level were associated with low risk of overall TE exposure and being previously married was related to higher risk. Being female was related to high risk of PTSD after experiencing a TE.
Having an accident is commonly reported among Spanish adults, but two TE are responsible for the highest burden associated with PTSD: the unexpected death of someone close and sexual assault. These results can help designing public health interventions to reduce the societal PTSD burden.
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