About 8% of the population will experience posttraumatic stress (PTSD) at some point. Though intensely stressful events cause PTSD, not everyone who experiences trauma will develop symptoms, and the severity of PTSD dramatically varies from person to person. Early intervention after trauma can help reduce the risk of PTSD, but determining who’s at risk can prove challenging. A new algorithm aims to eliminate the mystery by applying more than 800 risk factors.
Algorithm Risk Factors for PTSD
A number of risk factors—including inadequate social support, a history of mental health issues, or experiencing multiple traumas—are associated with PTSD. The challenge is that no single risk factor means a person will absolutely experience PTSD after a trauma, and some risk factors seem to count more than others. Researchers designed a computational algorithm designed to help predict individual PTSD risk.
To test the algorithm’s value, researchers pulled data from the Jerusalem Trauma Outreach and Prevention Study, which followed 4,743 people admitted to emergency rooms following traumatic events. When researchers applied the algorithm to information gathered within 10 days of a trauma, it more accurately predicted PTSD than older models, such as listing symptoms or risk factors.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has agreed to fund more research. The study’s authors have already gotten access to 19 additional data sets designed to help them hone their algorithm.
Helping Someone Who Has Experienced a Trauma
What happens in the first few weeks after a trauma—including the accessibility of support from loved ones—can influence whether someone develops PTSD. If someone you care about has recently experienced a trauma, the following strategies may help you help him or her:
- Believe what your loved one says about the trauma.
- Don’t demand information your loved one isn’t yet ready to give. When he or she does provide additional details, listen without judgment.
- Help your loved one identify specific needs, then offer assistance filling these needs. For instance, your loved one might be afraid to be alone at night. Staying with him or her could alleviate this fear.
- Encourage your loved one to seek emotional support. GoodTherapy.org can help you find a therapist who specializes in PTSD.
- Validate your loved one’s feelings. Intense emotions are normal after a trauma, but stigmatizing these emotions can compound the trauma.
- Computational tool identifies 800 risk factors for PTSD. (2015, March 16). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290899.php
- Helping patients cope with a traumatic event [PDF]. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- How common is PTSD? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
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