Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on December 18, 2012 '
People who worry constantly are at greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research.While many people experience traumatic events in their lives, only a small minority develop PTSD, said Naomi Breslau, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University.
“The question is, ‘What’s the difference between those who develop PTSD and the majority who don’t?’” Breslau said. “This paper says people who are habitually anxious are more vulnerable. It’s an important risk factor.”
For her research, she analyzed data from a decade-long study of about 1,000 randomly selected people in southeast Michigan.
At the start of the study, participants answered 12 questions that gauged neuroticism, a personality trait marked by chronic anxiety, depression and a tendency to overreact to everyday challenges and disappointments. They then had follow-up assessments at three, five and 10 years.
During the study period, about half the participants experienced a traumatic event. Those who scored higher on the neuroticism scale when the study began were more likely to end up among the 5 percent who developed PTSD, according to the researcher.
She noted the findings are particularly persuasive because the study assessed participants’ personalities before they had a traumatic experience, rather than measuring neuroticism among those who already had PTSD.
“There have been studies of neuroticism and PTSD, but they’ve all been retrospective,” she said. “We’re never sure of the order of things in a retrospective study. This study sets it in a clear time order.”
While there isn’t much that can be done to prevent PTSD, she said her findings may help doctors recognize people at the highest risk and respond accordingly when they experience trauma.
“We need to be concerned about people with previous psychiatric disorders if there’s some kind of catastrophe,” she said. “The main thing is that doctors have to look after their patients, ask them questions and get to know them.”
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Source: Michigan State University
Worried man photo by shutterstock.