Certain risk factors can strongly predict the risk of a person developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the unexpected death of a loved one, suggests a new study in Depression and Anxiety

“Preliminary evidence suggests that unexpected death of a loved one-related PTSD could be predicted with good accuracy from data available shortly after the death, although this evidence is based on retrospective data and needs to be confirmed prospectively,” reported Lukoye Atwoli, PhD, MMed, MBChB, of Moi University School of Medicine in Eldoret, Kenya, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and colleagues. 


“The 5% of respondents with highest predicted risk included 30.6% of all cases of unexpected death of a loved one-related PTSD. This is 6 times the proportion expected by chance,” they reported. “These findings emphasize that [unexpected death] is a major public health issue and suggest that screening assessments might be useful in identifying high-risk individuals for early interventions.”

The researchers analyzed data from 19 World Health Organization World Mental Health surveys that involved 78,023 participants, representing a 70% response rate. The surveys came from the United States, Japan, and 7 Western European countries among the high-income countries. Middle-income countries represented included Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Lebanon, Peru, Romania, South Africa, and Ukraine. 

Of the respondents, 30.2% of them (2813 individuals) chose from 27 listed traumatic events that the unexpected death of a loved one was the one that triggered their PTSD. The specific survey question was, “Did someone very close to you ever die unexpectedly; for example, were they killed in an auto accident, murdered, committed suicide, or had a fatal heart attack at an early age?”

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