A new study reveals that almost two-thirds of US children undergo some trauma or other early in their life, but very few of them experience post-traumatic stress disorder.
The finding reveals a certain emotional resilience in children, but it also suggests that the way children process troubling experiences is different from adults, said William Copeland of Duke University Medical Center, whose study appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Copeland and colleagues conducted annual interviews with 1,420 kids at ages 9, 11, and 13 who were representative of the general U.S. population between 1993 and 2000.
By age 16, 68 percent of those studied had experienced at least one traumatic event, such as the violent death of a loved one, physical abuse by a relative, sexual abuse, fire, natural disaster or a serious accident.
"It was a little shocking to me that it was that high," Copeland said in a telephone interview.
Despite those numbers, he said few kids end up developing post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is characterized by reliving the trauma in some way, avoiding places associated with the trauma and feelings of irritability and being on edge.
About 13.4 percent of those who experienced a traumatic event developed some post-traumatic stress symptoms by age 16, but fewer than 0.5 percent met the criteria for the disorder.
But children exposed to trauma had nearly double the rates of other psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety and conduct problems.
In adults, PTSD usually occurs after a triggering event, such as war, rape, natural disaster or serious illness.
About 6.8 percent of U.S. residents will experience PTSD at some point, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD, which estimates 5.2 million U.S. adults have the disorder in any given year.
The most common at-risk group in adults are those serving in combat.
Copeland said the study suggests clinicians need to look at a wider range of symptoms when evaluating the effects of trauma in children.