“Those who have experienced multiple traumas are more likely to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those who have had a single traumatic experience, and there appears to be a linear relationship between the number of traumas experienced and an individual’s risk for PTSD,” said researchers of a recent study. “Experiencing multiple traumas has also been associated with a greater risk of depression than experiencing a single traumatic event.” Because of this, it is unclear whether distressed individuals are more vulnerable to traumatic symptoms or whether being subjected to repeated traumatic events causes elevated levels of distress.
To determine the relationship between the two, a team of researchers enlisted 215 women from a sexual victimization study, who were students at Virginia Tech prior to the shooting in 2007. Of the participants, nearly 35% had been sexually victimized as an adult or teen, and nearly 25% had been sexually abused as a child. Almost all of the participants had been directly exposed, either moderately or severely, to the shooting in April of 2007. The researchers evaluated social support and depression levels in the women before the shooting, two months after and again after one year. At two months after the shooting, the women who had been sexually victimized reported lower levels of family support and benevolence. “Although victims of sexual trauma and non-victims of sexual trauma reported similar levels of distress prior to the campus shooting and in the immediate shooting aftermath, sexual trauma victims had significantly poorer adjustment one year following the shooting, reporting elevated depressive and PTSD symptoms,” said the team. The findings have implications for treating people who experience a mass trauma, in particularly, those who have had multiple prior traumatic experiences. The researchers added, “This suggests the possibility that multiple trauma victims may be less able to respond adaptively to the challenge to their own worth presented by a new traumatic experience, perhaps in part because they are more likely than single trauma victims to experience persistent distress.
Littleton, H. L., Grills-Taquechel, A. E., Axsom, D., Bye, K., & Buck, K. S. (2011, August 29). Prior Sexual Trauma and Adjustment Following the Virginia Tech Campus Shootings: Examination of the Mediating Role of Schemas and Social Support. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025270
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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