Traumatic stress and psychological functioning in a South African adolescent community sample

Karl D. Swain, Basil J. Pillay, Wendy Kliewer


Background: Traumatic stress may arise from various incidents often leading to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The lifetime prevalence of PTSD is estimated at 1% – 2% in Western Europe, 6% – 9% in North America and at just over 10% in countries exposed to long-term violence. In South Africa, the lifetime prevalence for PTSD in the general population is estimated at 2.3%.

Aim: To examine the prevalence of posttraumatic stress symptomatology and related psychological functioning in a community sample of adolescents.

Setting: Low-socioeconomic communities in KwaZulu-Natal. Methods: Home interviews with adolescents and their maternal caregivers were used to collect the data using standardised instruments. Adolescents completed the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children; Children’s Depression Inventory; Children’s Somatization Inventory; and Revised Children’s Manifest Anxiety Scale. The Child Behaviour Checklist was completed by the caregivers. The sample comprised Grade 7 (n = 256) and Grade 10 (n = 68) learners. Sixty-five percent of the sample was female, and ages ranged from 9 to 18 (M = 13.11, s.d. = 1.54).

Results: Almost 6% of the sample endorsed PTSD and an additional 4% of the participants had clinically significant traumatic stress symptomatology. There was a significant, large, positive correlation between posttraumatic stress and anxiety, and medium positive correlations between posttraumatic stress and depression and somatic symptoms.

Conclusion: Posttraumatic stress symptomatology can be debilitating, often co-occurring with symptoms of depression, anxiety and somatic complications. This may lead to long-term academic, social and emotional consequences in this vulnerable group.


adolescents; anxiety; depression; Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; posttraumatic stress symptomatology; somatic problems

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Submitted: 19 May 2016
Published: 10 March 2017

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)