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According to a new study, people who worry constantly are at greater risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder when confronted with a high-stress, trigger event.
Almost everyone experiences traumatic events during his or her lifetime. Events like the untimely death of a loved one, being assaulted, and witnessing violence are known by most people. Still, only a small number develop PTSD, according to research analyst and study author Naomi Breslau, a professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University.
“So the question is, ‘What’s the difference between those who develop PTSD and the majority who don’t?’” Breslau explained: “This paper says people who are habitually anxious are more vulnerable. It’s an important risk factor.” After analyzing data from a 10-year study of about 1,000 people, she was able to come to that conclusion.
At the beginning of the study, people were asked to fill out a survey gauging their level of neuroticism – a trait noted for chronic anxiety, depression and the tendency to overreact to everyday challenges and common disappointments. The follow-up interviews came at three, five and 10 years. Half of the participants experienced trauma during the study period. Those who scored higher on the neuroticism inventory were more likely to develop PTSD.
This study gathered particularly important data since the interviews began before the traumatic events occurred. “There have been studies of neuroticism and PTSD, but they’ve all been retrospective,” Breslau said. “We’re never sure of the order of things in a retrospective study. This study sets it in a clear time order.”
Since traumatic events are spontaneous and cannot be anticipated, it is not possible to lower the risk for PTSD. Instead, it may be possible to identify people at high risk early on by asking some key questions to find those who will be most vulnerable.
“We need to be concerned about people with previous psychiatric disorders if there’s some kind of catastrophe,” Breslau noted. “The main thing is that doctors have to look after their patients, ask them questions and get to know them.”
Sources: MedicalNewsToday, Psychological Medicine
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