Written by Alexis Mitchell UNCC ‘18
Defined by the American Psychological Association, posttraumatic stress disorder is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events (2013). People with PTSD may relive the event by having intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares. They may avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before. There has been a considerable amount of research surrounding the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and lifetime traumatic events among combat veterans, survivors of natural disasters, and rape victims.
To emphasize prevalence among college students, Bernat, Ronfeldt, Calhoun, & Arias conducted a study at the University of Georgia where 67% of college undergraduate participants reported experiencing at least one traumatic event during their lifetime (1998). Of the 937 University of Georgia undergraduate student participants, 634 were females and the average age was 19.7, with an age range of 18 to 49 years. 40% of the participants were freshmen, 33% sophomores, 19% juniors, and 7% seniors. The participants were given questions from the Trauma Assessment for Adults, Trauma History Questionnaire, and the Traumatic Event Questionnaire to measure the traumatic events they’ve experienced. These are all measures in which the questions derive from categories of stressful events- combat/military experience, sexual assault, physical assault, serious accidents, natural disasters, life-threatening illness, homicide of a family member or close friend, witnessing someone being injured or violently killed, and situations that involve fear of being killed or suffering from personal injury.
Relatively common traumatic lifetime events experienced by this sample of college students included: natural disasters (35.5%), serious accidents (31.9%), witness a serious injury or death (22%), and adolescent sexual coercion (21.5%). In addition, the female participants reported a significant higher prevalence in adolescent sexual coercion, child sexual abuse, adolescent sexual assault, and adult sexual assault.
This study also looked at risk factors for developing PTSD symptoms. Symptoms for PTSD are intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity (APA, 2013). Gender and number of traumatic events experienced were two significant risk factors discussed. These are called individual vulnerability factors. An individual is at an increased risk for developing PTSD symptoms if they are a female and the more events someone experiences, the likelihood of developing symptoms increases.
This research offers a succinct understanding of the prevalence of college undergraduates at risk for developing PTSD symptoms. Notably, with almost three-fourths of students having reported traumatic events, college campuses can be regarded as places needed for future research on PTSD and the future development and understanding of PTSD.
In sum, despite the limitations of the retrospective reporting from the participants, the study lends further support for arguments about gender and PTSD symptom development and college students, as well as traumatic event experiences among young adults. This study also implies the need for and the importance of campus counseling services that are made available to college students. To learn more about college counseling advocacy click here.
Bernat, J. A., Ronfeldt, H. M., Calhoun, K. S., & Arias, I. (1998). Prevalence of Traumatic Events and Peritraumatic Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in a Nonclinical Sample of College Students. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11(4), 645-665.