One third of young people have experienced trauma, says study

There is a lack of professional help for children with mental health problems

There is a lack of professional help for the rising number of children with mental health problems

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More mental health nurses and resources are needed to treat post-traumatic stress in young people, warns the RCN.

The college made the comments in response to a study showing almost one third (31%) of children have had traumatic childhood experiences.

The research study from King's College London (KCL), published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, concerns 2,232 children born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1995.

It found 1 in 13 (7.8%) young people had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before the age of 18, but that there is a lack of professional help to support them.

Those who had been exposed to trauma and PTSD were found to be twice as likely as their peers to have a range of mental health disorders.

The study also found:

  • Three in four young people who had developed PTSD had developed another mental health condition at age 18.
  • Half the young people had self-harmed
  • One in five had attempted suicide since age 12.
  • However, only about one fifth (20.6%) of the group said they had received help from a mental health professional in the past year.

Declining workforce

RCN professional lead for children and young people's nursing Fiona Smith said that, while mental health problems among young people are escalating, numbers of the nursing workforce that support them in times of crisis – mental health and school nurses – have fallen. 

She added: ‘This means that, while more and more young people have needed specialist nursing care, it hasn’t always been there.

‘Traumatic experiences can have lifelong effects for the children and young people who experience them, and it’s important that there are resources in place to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress as soon as possible.’

Traumatic experiences include direct experience of assault, injury or sexual violation, but also ‘network trauma’ – events that affected someone the young people knew, but which they did not witness in person.

KCL institute of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience senior researcher Andrea Danese said the findings should serve as a wake-up call.

She added that, while childhood trauma is a public health concern, trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed.

PTSD symptoms include

  • Re-living traumatic events through distressing memories or nightmares
  • Avoiding anything that is reminiscent of the trauma
  • Feeling guilty, isolated or detached
  • Feeling irritable, being impulsive or having difficulties concentrating


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