Public Release: 

Suicide risk elevated after traumatic events, even in partial PTSD

American Psychiatric Association

Washington, D.C. - People who suffer psychological reactions to a traumatic event but do not have full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still have clinically significant symptomatology and impairment, according to a study published in the September 2001 American Journal of Psychiatry, the monthly scientific journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder in which exposure to a traumatic mental or physical event is followed by persistent reexperiencing of the event. Symptoms can include recurrent and distressing recollections of the event, efforts to avoid feelings and reminders associated with the trauma, and severe anxiety.

The study, led by Randall Marshall, M.D., of New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, suggests that the number of people in the U.S. who are significantly impaired by traumatic events may be much greater than previously realized, since most estimates are based only on those who meet full criteria for PTSD. Subthreshold PTSD was defined as a subject having some but not all of the symptoms of PTSD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition).

The study also found that the presence of other disorders (comorbidity) is common in subthreshold PTSD and is an important factor in understanding the impairment caused by partial PTSD. The presence of PTSD symptoms in these subjects significantly raised the risk of suicidal thoughts, according to the authors. More than three times as many individuals with full PTSD reported current suicidal ideation than people who did not have PTSD symptoms.

It is estimated that ten percent of the American population has suffered from PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Fortunately, treatment is available in the form of psychotherapy, peer counseling and medication.


["Comorbidity, Impairment, and Suicidality in Subthreshold PTSD," by Randall D. Marshall, M.D., et al, p. 1467, American Journal of Psychiatry, September 2001.]

The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society, founded in 1844, whose 38,000 physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

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