When most people think of PTSD, they may imagine soldiers and civilians struggling with the horrors of war, victims of abuse, witnesses of terrorist attacks, and other extreme incidents. However, PTSD — and the depression, stress and anxiety that often accompany it — is not the sole domain of extraordinary trauma.
PTSD and depressive symptoms are known to affect individuals following moderate to serious physical injuries. The nature of this relation in university students, however, and especially those from low and middle-income countries is not well researched.
This was the theme of a recent study by South African researchers, whose cross-sectional survey of 18,382 students in 26 countries compared history of serious physical injury in the past 12 months to presence of posttraumatic stress and depressive systems. Their focus was on low- and middle-income countries and students, a domain which has suffered from a poverty of scientific inquiry but may demonstrate important differences in the causes and mental health outcomes of injury.
Each of the students was asked to respond to a questionnaire of four multiple choice questions: What were participants doing when their most serious injury of the past 12 months occurred (e.g., playing or training for a sport), what was its cause (e.g., I fell), how did it happen (e.g., I hurt myself by accident), and the nature of the injury (e.g., cut, puncture, stab wound).
The authors also measured country income, social support (e.g, “I feel that there is no one I can share my most private concerns with”) and alcohol use.
The results demonstrate that approximately one quarter of individuals had suffered a serious physical injury in the past 12 months (higher among male students, upper and middle-class countries, low social support, and heavy alcohol use). PTSD symptoms were present in 21% of cases, and depressive symptoms in 13%.
Those having been attacked, assaulted or abused had the highest rate of PTSD and depressive symptoms, with fire/burns and something falling on the victim ranking second and third. Somebody else being the cause of the injury also correlated with PTSD symptoms.
The psychological aftereffects of suffering serious physical injury are often overlooked, sometimes even downplayed. The value in studies like these is twofold: not only does it provide empirical evidence of posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms following physical injury and thus validation for community and university support systems following injury, it also may help determine how individual and contextual differences come into play, leading to more effective countermeasures.
The study, “Associations of serious physical injuries with posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms: a cross-sectional survey among university students in 26 countries“, was authored by Supa Pengpid and Karl Peltzer.