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Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey

Author(s): Kessler RC, Sonnega A, Bromet E, Hughes M, Nelson CB

Abstract

Background:  Data were obtained on the general population epidemiology of DSM-III-R posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including information on estimated lifetime prevalence, the kinds of traumas most often associated with PTSD, sociodemographic correlates, the comorbidity of PTSD with other lifetime psychiatric disorders, and the duration of an index episode.

Methods:  Modified versions of the DSM-III-R PTSD module from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule and of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview were administered to a representative national sample of 5877 persons aged 15 to 54 years in the part II subsample of the National Comorbidity Survey.

Results:  The estimated lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 7.8%. Prevalence is elevated among women and the previously married. The traumas most commonly associated with PTSD are combat exposure and witnessing among men and rape and sexual molestation among women. Posttraumatic stress disorder is strongly comorbid with other lifetime DSM-III-R disorders. Survival analysis shows that more than one third of people with an index episode of PTSD fail to recover even after many years.

Conclusions:  Posttraumatic stress disorder is more prevalent than previously believed, and is often persistent. Progress in estimating age-at-onset distributions, cohort effects, and the conditional probabilities of PTSD from different types of trauma will require future epidemiologic studies to assess PTSD for all lifetime traumas rather than for only a small number of retrospectively reported "most serious" traumas.

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