The frequency of trauma and different types of violence exposure in urban areas and their effects on the mental health of adolescents in developing countries are poorly investigated. Most information about traumatized young people comes from war scenarios or disasters. This study aimed to determine the prevalence of PTSD in trauma-exposed students in a low-resource city of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The effects of sociodemographic and individual and family factors in the development of PTSD were also investigated.
Through multi-stage cluster sampling, 862 adolescents (Mage = 15 years old, 65% female) from public and private schools in the city of São Gonçalo were selected for the study. Self-rating structured questionnaires were applied to assess sociodemographic profile, exposure to physical and psychological violence (family, school, community), sexual abuse, social support, social functional impairment, resilience, and posttraumatic stress disorder. The data were grouped in blocks regarding sociodemographic, individual, family, and community variables. For statistical analysis, chi-square, Fisher’s exact test, and logistic regression were performed.
The PTSD prevalence was 7.8% among adolescents. Boys were exposed to significantly higher number of events of community violence, while girls to family violence. The adjusted odds ratio (OR) for PTSD were statistically significant for age (OR, 1.45, [95% CI, 1.043–2.007]), social functional impairment (OR, 4.82, [95% CI, 1.77–13.10]), severe maternal physical violence (OR, 2.79, [95% CI, 0.79–9.93]), psychological violence by significant people (OR, 3.96, [95% CI, 1.89–8.31]) and a high number of episodes of community violence (OR, 3.52, [95% CI, 1.47–8.40).
There was a high prevalence of PTSD within this population associated with exposure to violence. Not only physical, but also psychological violence contributed to PTSD. The results also raise awareness to the differences in life trajectories between boys and girls regarding violence. These differences need to be better understood in order to enable the development of effective preventative interventions. Treating and preventing mental health disorders presents a challenge for countries, especially those with a lower degree of social and economic development and high community violence.