Community Violence Big Risk Factor for PTSD in Young Adults
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in a significant minority of people exposed to circumstances that pose some sort of serious threat to immediate survival. PTSD specialists know that exposure to a form of violence known broadly as community violence is a potential source of a survival threat intense enough to trigger the disorder in certain individuals. In a study review presented in January 2015 to the Society for Social Work and Research, researchers from New York University explored the factors that make community violence exposure a PTSD risk for young adults.
Community violence is an umbrella term that public health officials and researchers use to describe a range of violent acts that may affect a neighborhood or local area. Some forms of this violence occur within the home, while other forms occur in public places or in other locations outside of the home. Examples of actions that qualify as community violence include physically attacking someone, using threats of violence to intimidate someone and physically taking someone else’s property or personal belongings. While public perception often focuses on violent acts that take place in poor, urban or ethnic communities, wealthy Americans, Caucasian Americans and people who reside in suburban or rural areas are not immune to such acts.
More than 33 percent of all American preteens and younger teenagers experience community violence in the form of direct physical contact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD reports. Rates for exposure to implied or threatened violence are substantially higher. Population groups with especially high risks for community violence exposure include men, non-Caucasians, children of parents who commit intimate partner violence, gang members, people with substance problems and socioeconomically disadvantaged people living in centralized city neighborhoods. Women have elevated risks for community violence that takes the form of rape or other types of sexual assault.
Women develop post-traumatic stress disorder much more often than men in the aftermath of exposure to life-threatening events or situations. Situations and events especially noted for their potential to trigger symptoms of the disorder include sexual assault, physical assault and indirect or direct exposure to combat. Broadly speaking, overall PTSD risks rise along with the severity of the traumatic situation or event, the duration of the traumatic situation/event, proximity to the traumatic situation/event and the intensity of the immediate emotional response to a traumatic situation/event. Other determining factors include whether someone died during a traumatic situation/event, the amount of help received in the aftermath of trauma exposure, level of prior exposure to highly traumatic circumstances, pre-existing mental health status, mental health-related family history and level of general stress at the time of trauma exposure.
Impact of Community Violence Exposure
In the study presented to the Society for Social Work and Research, the New York University researchers used data gathered from 14 previous studies to help determine the prevalence of community violence exposure among young-adult Americans, as well as the factors that link such exposure to increased chances of developing PTSD. All of the studies under consideration were conducted in the 21st century and included participants between the ages of 18 and 30. The researchers initially looked at a total of 517 studies before narrowing their focus to those studies that met the scientific standards for inclusion.
The researchers preliminarily concluded that relatively little scientifically sound work has been done on the PTSD-related impact of community violence exposure among America’s young adults. Most of the studies that met their standard for inclusion focused on Hispanic men or on college students with a Caucasian racial/ethnic background. Despite the limitations in study quality and diversity, the researchers found that community violence exposure is quite common for young adults, even in those groups not traditionally considered at risk. The researchers also found that this form of violence significantly increases young adults’ chances of developing PTSD. Young adults with heightened risks for relatively severe PTSD symptoms associated with community violence exposure include people who lack strong support networks, people already affected by mental illness, people who blame themselves for their violence exposure and people who experience a sense of mental/physical detachment from reality at the time of their violence exposure. Conversely, risks typically go down in young adults with strong support networks and/or a well-developed ability to adapt to stressful circumstances.