Written By Alexis Mitchell UNCC ‘18
Stressful events can predict increased emotional distress during the teenage years. Experiencing trauma early in life can affect cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physiological growth (Ickovics et al.,2006). Despite the increasing attention directed towards posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there is limited research on posttraumatic growth and adolescents. Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is a construct of positive psychological change that occurs as the result of one’s struggle with a highly challenging, stressful, and traumatic event (Calhoun & Tedeshci, 2006).
Ickovics and colleagues conducted a study in order to shed light on adolescence and posttraumatic growth, traumatic life events that happen to adolescents, and the emotional distress that can occur from stressful life events (2006). Their sample was comprised of 323 female adolescents from three different cities that are among the top 10 poorest cities in the U.S. Specifically, youth in these cities face many traumas.
Participants completed four 90 minute, face-to-face interviews over the course of 18 months. Various psychometric scales and open-ended questions were proposed in order to assess all the research objectives: posttraumatic stress, growth, emotional distress, and type of traumatic events experienced by the adolescent girls.
97% of the girls reported having experienced a traumatic event. The majority reported “death of a loved one” as the “hardest thing that they have experienced,” with pregnancy and motherhood being the second most frequently listed event. In relation to posttraumatic growth, most of the adolescents reported feeling “appreciative of life” after the occurrence of a traumatic event; pregnancy and motherhood reported to result in the most posttraumatic growth. Interpersonal problems (relationship issues) were reported to result in significantly less posttraumatic growth.
The timing of the event was related to how much emotional distress they experienced. Short-term emotional distress directly following a stressful event was reported as significantly worse than potentially lasting emotional distress, suggesting that as time goes on, the intensity of emotional responses to the traumatic event decreases. This finding supports the notion that youth in the citites tend to have resilience due to their adverse life situations. Those with low posttraumatic growth had relatively high distress before a traumatic event occurred, which stayed high following the traumatic event in the short term and only declined later, as measured 18 months after the traumatic event. However, for some of the teens who had low posttrauamtic growth before the traumatic event, continued to show high levels of distress even when assessed 18 months after the event happened. This suggests that consistent high levels of distress result in persistent low posttraumatic growth.
Personal and social resources are influential in determining the consequences of trauma; these are almost surely more limited for adolescents on the basis of their more limited life experiences and opportunities, especially for urban youth. Future research should use a similar sample, one that is diverse but also includes low socio-economic status individuals, and males.
Calhoun, L. G. , & Tedeschi, R. G. (Eds.) (2006) The handbook of posttraumatic growth: Research and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Ickovics et al. (2006). Urban teens: Trauma, posttraumatic growth, and emotional distress among female adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 841-850.