Lower Intelligence Increases PTSD Risks
> 3/12/2007 2:45:33 PM

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a recurring nightmare for millions of people in every corner of our society. The aftermath of an emotional, anxiety-ridden event such as serious illness, violence or personal loss can cripple affected individuals and those who care for them for decades after the incident itself has passed. In a recently completed longitudinal study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers concluded that individuals with lower-level cognitive functions are more likely to develop PTSD after underdergoing a particularly stressful or life-changing incident. The study drew upon 21 years of analysis focusing on 90 American combat veterans of the Vietnam war, a conflict notorious for producing a considerable number of mentally and physically disabled servicemen and women.

59 of the study's subjects had been officially diagnosed with the disorder. Among individuals with similar amounts of combat experience, those with lower precombat military aptitude test scores and fewer years of formal education were more likely to suffer from the subsequent symptoms of PTSD. Researchers believe that those who scored higher on the tests probably had the ability to better assess their experiences and place them in perspective while retaining a greater degree of control over their emotional responses. Those with lower scores and inferior cognitive abilities were more likely to feel overwhelmed and unsure how to respond to the events precipitating the disorder.

Since it focused on victims of combat trauma, this study does not specifically imply that lower scores on initial intelligence tests serve as predictors of PTSD for different causal variables. Nor does the research indicate that PTSD brings intelligence scores down. The nature and degree of the event that precedes the onset of this disorder is obviously one of the most important variables that will shape the patient's experience. Other important factors are the nature and timing of treatment and the support system (personal and clinical) made available to the patient.

This study may help experts decide which individuals are at the greatest risk and so most qualified to receive early interventions for PTSD. It highlights the importance of experience and intelligence in facing situations during which an individual may be required to make life-or-death decisions in the best interests of him or herself and the larger military effort. Its results force one to wonder about eighteen-year-olds deemed ready for ground service. Even if they are physically able to engage in heavy combat, are they well-adjusted or mature enough to appreciate and overcome the experience? Is today's all-volunteer army more willing to engage in these practices and therefore better prepared to put them in the proper perspective? Only further research can properly address these questions and the many related issues that will continue to emerge with every violent conflict worldwide.

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