Childhood Traumatic Grief

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Childhood Traumatic Grief

The Prevalence of Childhood Traumatic Grief: A Comparison of Violent/Sudden and Expected Loss

The Prevalence of Childhood Traumatic Grief: A Comparison of Violent/Sudden and Expected Loss


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that may occur as a result of experiencing a traumatic event. People who have PTSD suffer from difficult memories and painful feelings that do not seem to improve over time. PTSD is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition-Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). Approximately 8% of the child population of the United States will suffer from PTSD at some point during their lives, according to the DSM-IV-TR. Overall prevalence for children and adolescents is not known, but the incidence of PTSD in children exposed to traumatic events ranges from 8% to 75% for war, 19% to 100% for criminal victimization, and 0% to 91% for natural disasters (McClatchy, Vonk & Palardy, 2009).

Sometimes the diagnosis of PTSD has already been made and treatment is underway when a child comes to school. However, some children have undiagnosed or untreated PTSD. They may be referred to school psychologists for their behaviour or learning problems. School psychologists can help teachers work with these children in the classroom. School psychologists can provide information that will help in the diagnosis of PTSD and assist in locating appropriate treatment.


PTSD symptoms can occur at any age across the life span following a traumatic event. Lifetime prevalence rates for PTSD range from 1% to 14%, whereas at-risk populations, such as war veterans, have prevalence rates ranging from 3% to 58%. (McClatchy, Vonk & Palardy, 2009) Studies have found that as many as 25% of children have experienced at least one potentially traumatic event. Occurrences such as exposure to war, family violence, natural disaster, rape, or serious illness or injury have been associated with PTSD symptoms and diagnoses. A higher incidence of PTSD symptoms has been found for females than males in both pediatric and adult samples.


There is some evidence that PTSD is heritable among family members. In addition, preexisting or comorbid psychopathology has been related to longer duration and greater severity of PTSD symptoms.

Developmental Considerations

Children and adolescents are more vulnerable to environmental hazards than adults, such that direct trauma to the central nervous system may have long-lasting and possibly permanent effects on their future development. Exposure to such trauma may predispose these individuals to become more vulnerable to future distress, and even normal ...
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