Stressful Life Events May Cause Late-Onset PTSD

Many individuals who experience a trauma only have minor problems as a result of the event, but became hyper-sensitive because of the experience and are unable to cope adequately with subsequent stressful life events (SLE). This can eventually lead to the development of post traumatic symptoms many months or years after the trauma occurs. “If increases in symptoms associated with late-onset PTSD are substantial, late-onset PTSD may be expected to lead to increases in mental health services (MHS) utilization, a consequence that has not been investigated before,” said Geert E. Smid, of the Foundation Centrum ’45, Diemen, in The Netherlands. “Furthermore, relevant post-event factors associated with late-onset PTSD included stressors such as stressful life events, persistent financial and medical problems and chronic pain, as well as lower perceived social support,” Smid said of data collected from previous studies. Smid and colleagues from throughout The Netherlands conducted a study to determine the prevalence of late-onset PTSD in survivors of a devastating fireworks explosion in Enschede in May of 2000. The disaster killed 22 people, injured over 1000, and left 1,200 people homeless, forcing them to find new accommodations for years while their properties were rebuilt.

Using this pool of people, the researchers assessed over 600 people three weeks after the disaster, 18 months after, and again four years after the explosion. They said, “In our sample of residents exposed to a large-scale disaster, we found late-onset PTSD to occur in 4% of study participants four years later, equaling 22% of those meeting criteria for PTSD at 18 months and/or four years post disaster.” They added, “Because SLE following disaster exposure are associated with late-onset PTSD, foreseeable stressors in the aftermath of a disaster may be a target for secondary prevention of late-onset PTSD. Agencies should therefore focus their efforts on facilitating and supporting restorative activities in order to counteract or prevent these stressors.”

Smid, G. E., van der Velden, P. G., Gersons, B. P. R., & Kleber, R. J. (2011, May 23). Late-Onset Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following a Disaster: A Longitudinal Study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023868

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • TH


    September 29th, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    The first documentary to be made about late-onset PTSD illuminates many of these issues. It is called Prisoner of Her Past and has been airing nationally on PBS this year:

  • Shayne


    September 29th, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    This study very clearly shows that no matter how far removed you may think that you are from any situation, if it has been harmful to you in some way it can always pop back up in your life and hurt you time and again. That is why it is so important that you deal with these things that happen to you in life when they happen and not leave them to try to bury. Because they will come back and get you sooner or later. And who knows how deep the hurt can go if you let it sit around and fester without really digging deep and getting to the issue at hand.

  • hazel


    September 29th, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    sounds like a dormant volcano…as if it were not bad enough that someone endures all the pain,the fact that it can come back and strike even more viciously is a sad thing indeed..

    so i guess the message should be even if a loved one does not exhibit symptoms of an issue after a traumatic situation,try and get some advice from an expert,for a problem could be dormant but existent!

  • arial


    September 30th, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    can’t bury your head and problems in the sand- sooner or later they come back. And PTSD can be so devastating because you know there are relatives and such who will tell you just to forget about it, that it was in the past. But kind of hard to forget about those horrible things that are giving you nightmares in the night.

  • Trent


    September 30th, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    So does this mean that some people feel the effects soon after an incident and some others have it later and amplified? If it is so, then it would be great of we could somehow identify what it is for someone in particular and take the appropriate route after the incident.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.