57 per cent of those who personally endured a trauma suffer from the condition
Nearly 100,000 children are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of severe bullying and violence, researchers have warned.
The first comprehensive study of the issue in Britain found 7.8 per cent of people under the age of 18 are living with the condition more commonly associated with veteran soldiers.
Its authors warned of a hidden epidemic whereby children suffering from nightmares, irritability and concentration problems are going undiagnosed and untreated.
Barely a third of children with PTSD seek help from their GP, while only one in five ever get to see a specialist, the research found.
Published in the Lancet, the study should increase awareness of PTSD among parents and teachers, the team at King’s College London said.
They drew on a cohort of 2,232 twins born in 1994 and 1995 who were given a full psychiatric interview at the age of 18, following four previous assessments between the ages of 5 and 12.
Just over three in 10 children were found to have experienced some kind of trauma during their childhood.
The most common type was so-called “network” trauma, where a child find out about a traumatic event suffered by someone they know.
However, among those who went on to develop PTSD – 57 per cent – the most common reason was direct personal experience, or the treat of experiencing, assault, injury or sexual violation.
This included bullying in school.
Professor Andrea Danese, who led the research, said: “Our findings should serve as a wake-up call – childhood trauma is a public health concern yet trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed. Young people with PTSD are falling through the gaps in care and there is a pressing need for better access to mental health services.”
Symptoms of the condition include re-living traumatic events through distressing memories or nightmares, avoidance of anything reminding them of trauma, feelings of guilt, isolation or detachment, as well as irritability, impulsivity and difficulty concentrating.
Previous research has found that the risk of PTSD following exposure to trauma is greater in girls.
The new study revealed that half of young people with PTSD had self-harmed, while one in five had attempted suicide since the age of 12.
A quarter were not in education, employment or training, and half said they experienced high levels of social isolation or loneliness.
“One of the distressing things is how few of the young people with PTSD received treatment,” said Professor Danese, who also practises as a NHS consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist.
We have very effective ways of treating PTSD, but they are most effective when the treatment occurs early on.
Dr Stephanie Lewis, who co-authored the study, said: “Young people who have been exposed to trauma often have complex problems, which become increasingly difficult to assess and treat.
“We encourage parents and carers to seek support from health professionals if their children are exposed to trauma and are suffering from distressing psychological symptoms.”
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, a UK Government funding agency.