Recent Research: Dr. Melissa Hagan
Female, sexually abused children more at risk for type of PTSD
Young children who experience traumatic events such as physical or verbal abuse, family violence or loss of a parent or family member may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociative features (PTSD-DISS). A new study by San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Melissa Hagan in the Journal of Affective Disorders examines the factors that predict that diagnosis, which was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual in 2013 on the basis of extensive studies of adults. Until recently, not much was known about this symptom pattern in young children, according to Hagan.
PTSD-DISS includes symptoms of dissociation such as lack of awareness, being in a daze and/or staring into space, along with classic PTSD symptoms such as re-experiencing the traumatic event, shutting off feelings, avoiding thinking about the trauma or becoming agitated.
Hagan’s team studied 297 children between the ages of 3 and 6. They found that girls who have experienced trauma and both boys and girls who are victims of sexual abuse are at greater risk of PTSD-DISS. Hagan also found that when a child’s parent avoided dealing with their own trauma (whether related to the child’s or not), the likelihood of the child having PTSD-DISS was greater. “Young children rely on their primary caregiver to help them make sense of traumatic experiences,” said Hagan. “When the caregiver avoids their own trauma or their child’s, it can interfere with the child’s ability to adaptively respond to the trauma.”