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Post-traumatic stress higher in children of veterans with PTSD

18 August 2017
The trans-generational effects of PTSD

A study has found adult children of Australian Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are between three and six times more likely to have PTSD. The study coincides with Vietnam Veterans Day on 18 August.

The adult children of Australian Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) are between three and six times more likely to have PTSD than children of veterans without PTSD, a report coinciding with Vietnam Veterans’ Day 2017 reveals today.

Father and son holding hands.

The veterans studied were a random non-clinical sample of men who served in Vietnam for the Australian Army between 1962-1972. They were interviewed twice, an average of 22 years and 36 years after returning to Australia. Their partners and adult children were interviewed following the second wave of veteran interviews.

Key findings:

  • PTSD is three times more common in daughters (19.6 percent) than sons (6.4percent) of veterans with PTSD
  • Over their lifetime, the sons of PTSD veterans were nearly five times more likely to have PTSD than the sons of veterans without PTSD
  • Daughters of PTSD veterans were nearly three times more likely to have PTSD over their lifetime than the daughters of veterans without PTSD
  • Sons of veterans with PTSD and depression were six times more likely to have PTSD
  • Daughters of veterans with PTSD and alcohol disorder were four times more likely to have PTSD
  • Mothers’ PTSD was not a risk factor for PTSD in their children.

“The relative contribution of genetics and environmental influences on intergenerational transmission of Post-traumatic stress syndrome is not yet settled,” says Dr Brian O’Toole of the University of Sydney’s Vietnam Veterans' Family Health Study, who led the research.

“Given the evidence of the negative influence of PTSD on veterans and their families, the ability of a veteran to establish a secure and supportive relationship with his children may be diminished.

"Given the effects of PTSD in veterans may be felt early in childhood, there is a need to assess and monitor mental health in veterans and their families soon after their return from combat duties,” Dr O’Toole added. 

Dan Gaffney

Media & PR Adviser (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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