Article

Transgenerational consequences of PTSD: risk factors for the mental health of children whose mothers have been exposed to the Rwandan genocide

International Journal of Mental Health Systems (Impact Factor: 1.06). 04/2014; 8(1):12. DOI: 10.1186/1752-4458-8-12
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Understanding how parental Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may or may not affect the development and mental health in the offspring is particularly important in conflict regions, where trauma-related illness is endemic. In Rwanda, organised atrocities and the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994 have left a significant fraction of the population with chronic PTSD. The aim of the present investigation was to establish whether PTSD in mothers is associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and aggressive and antisocial behaviour in their children.
A community sample of 125 Rwandan mothers who experienced the genocide of 1994 and their 12-year-old children were interviewed. Using a structured interview, symptoms of maternal PTSD and children's depression, anxiety, and aggressive and antisocial behaviour were assessed by trained and on-site supervised local B.A. psychologists. The interview also included a detailed checklist of event types related to family violence.
In showing that a maternal PTSD was not associated with child's psychopathology, the results contradict the assumption of straight "trans-generational trauma transmission". Instead, a child's exposure to maternal family violence posed a significant risk factor for a negative mental health outcome. Furthermore, it was not maternal PTSD-symptoms but mother's exposure to family violence during her own childhood that was associated with the magnitude of adversities that a child experiences at home.
Contrary to a simple model of a trans-generational transmission of trauma, neither maternal PTSD nor maternal traumatic experiences were directly associated with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or antisocial and aggressive behaviour in the children. Instead, the present results suggest a relationship between parental child rearing practices and children's mental health. Furthermore, the study details the "cycle of violence", showing a significant link between maternal violence against a child and its mother's experience of childhood maltreatment.

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