Sometimes it seems like there are two kinds of people in the world – those who can be so resilient in the face of stressful or traumatic events, and those who develop Post-Traumatic Stress.
We know that some people are simply more vulnerable to developing PTSD than others . . .
. . . but why?
Naomi Breslau, PhD of the Epidemiology Department of Michigan State University wanted to find out whether chronic worrying could play a role in heightening a person’s risk of suffering PTSD following a traumatic episode.
She and her colleagues analyzed data from a 10-year study of approximately one thousand randomly chosen young members of a southeastern Michigan HMO.
When the longitudinal epidemiological study started, participants answered twelve questions to measure their chronic anxiety, depression, and their tendency to overreact to daily stressors (all frequent contributors to what is often characterized as “neuroticism”).
Follow-ups were done at the three, five, and ten-year marks.
Approximately half of the participants experienced a traumatic event during the course of the study, though only five percent developed PTSD.
This five percent tended to score higher on the neuroticism scale during the study’s four assessment phases. The relative risk of the development of PTSD in cases where participants scored high on neuroticism was statistically significant.
These findings are notable because neuroticism was measured before the participants experienced trauma, suggesting that neuroticism may be an indicator for vulnerability to developing PTSD rather than a characteristic that develops as a result of trauma.
However, there could be other factors that make an individual more likely to develop trauma that this study did not measure. While we might never be able to prevent traumatic events from happening, studies like this one can at least help us recognize who might be at higher risk for suffering long-term effects of trauma and tailor treatment accordingly.
If you’d like to read more about this study, it was published in Psychological Medicine, November 30, 2012.
And to find out more about the different ways that trauma can develop, and the latest interventions for recovery, check out our Rethinking Trauma Webinar series.
Have you ever helped a patient build or regain their resilience after a traumatic event? Please share your experience in the comment section below.