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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: The Burden to the Individual and to Society

Ronald C. Kessler, PhD

Published: May 31, 2000

Article Abstract

Background: Little is known about the total population prevalence and societal costs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); this report reviews relevant literature on these topics. Method: A literature search of computerized databases for published reports on trauma and PTSD was conducted. Thisliterature was reviewed to find data on general population exposure to trauma, conditional risk ofPTSD among those exposed to trauma both in focused samples of trauma victims and in general populationsamples, and the adverse consequences of PTSD. Results: PTSD was found to be a commonlyoccurring disorder that often has a duration of many years and is frequently associated with exposureto multiple traumas. The impairment associated with PTSD in U.S. samples, where the majority ofresearch on these consequences has been carried out, is comparable to, or greater than, that of otherseriously impairing mental disorders. Risk of suicide attempts is particularly high among people withPTSD. Available evidence suggests that the prevalence of PTSD and the adverse emotional and psychologicalconsequences of PTSD are much greater in the many countries around the world that are inthe midst of armed conflicts involving political, racial, or ethnic violence. Conclusion: PTSD is a highly prevalent and impairing condition. Only a minority of people with PTSD obtain treatment.Early and aggressive outreach to treat people with PTSD could help reduce the enormous societalcosts of this disorder.

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