Sex differences in the severity and natural recovery of child PTSD symptoms: A longitudinal analysis of children exposed to acute trauma

Lucy V Hiscox, S. Bray, Abigail Fraser, Richard Meiser-Stedman, Soraya Seedat, Sarah Halligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)

Abstract

Background Higher levels of PTSD symptoms are present among trauma-exposed females v. males in adulthood; however, much less is known about the emergence of this sex difference during development. Methods In a multi-study sample of 7-18-year-olds (n = 3397), we examined the effect of sex and age on the severity of PTSD symptoms after a single incident trauma at 1 month (T1), and on symptom change after a natural recovery period of 3 (T2) and 6 months (T3). PTSD scores were harmonised across measurement types, and linear regressions were used to determine sex and age effects, adjusting for study level variance and trauma type. Results A sex × age interaction was observed at T1 (p < 0.001) demonstrating that older age was associated with greater PTSD symptom severity in females (β = 0.008, p = 0.047), but less severe symptoms in males (β = -0.011, p = 0.014). The same pattern was observed at T2 and T3, with sex differences beginning to emerge by age 12 years. PTSD symptoms decreased naturally by ∼25% at T2 with little further improvement by T3. Further, females showed a greater reduction in symptoms at T3 than males, although the same effect was not observed at T2. Conclusions Sex differences in PTSD symptoms become apparent during adolescence, due to opposing changes in susceptibility occurring in females and males with age. Understanding the factors contributing to these findings is likely to provide wider insight into sex-specific psychological vulnerability to trauma-related psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date10 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Childhood/adolescence
  • PACT/R
  • PTSD
  • longitudinal
  • sex-differences
  • trauma recovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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