Topic: Violence and abuse

Epidemiology: Traumatic events in adolescents.

The research project will study the significance of posttraumatic stress reactions in relation to somatic health problems and risk behaviour in adolescents exposed to traumas.

2010 This project has been completed 2014

Project Manager

Project Members

Main objective

The overall objective of this study is to study the significance of posttraumatic stress reactions in relation to somatic health problems and risk behaviour in adolescents exposed to traumas. In addition, the study will investigate whether social support from close family members and friends as well as self-esteem have any significance for psychological reactions to traumas. The outcomes will provide new knowledge on the characteristics of adolescents who are particularly exposed to acquiring somatic health complaints and to developing risk behaviour following traumas, and they will indicate resilience factors that may prevent negative development.


Data collected from HUNT-3, the third Health Survey in Nord-Trøndelag, is used in this study. HUNT was conducted during the period autumn 2006 to summer 2008. In the adolescent portion of HUNT, 9 880 adolescents aged 13-19 were invited to participate, and the current figure for participants is 8 553 adolescents (86.6 %).

In the study, a number of variables were collected that map traumatic events, psychological and somatic health, behaviour, self-perception and social support. In addition, data from Statistics Norway and the prescription database will be linked with the study.

The statistical analyses will be based on models for mediating, and are tested by use of structural modelling (SEM – structural equation modelling). SEM is a well suited method for studying covariation, that is, patterns of correlation between a set of variables in a hypothetical model. The analyses will reveal whether the coincidences described in the model fit with the observations in this study, and more specifically, whether the connection between the predictor and outcome variable can be explained based on mediating factors (mediators) that are measured.

In the model, it is expected that posttraumatic stress reactions will mediate the connection between traumatic events and somatic health, and between traumatic events and risk behaviour. Likewise it is expected that positive self-perception and social support will mediate the relationship between traumas and psychological difficulties.

Further information

Background for the project

Exposure to traumatic events in childhood and adolescence can have serious consequences for health. Posttraumatic stress reactions and other resulting conditions such as anxiety and depression can negatively affect the child and adolescent’s self-realization and development to a large extent. In addition, studies have revealed clear connections between traumas and somatic health problems, particularly complaints of pain, which are associated with high medication consumption.

Previous studies have demonstrated connections between traumas and psychological symptoms and between traumas and somatic health problems, as well as between traumas and acting out and alcohol and drug misuse. We have little knowledge, however, about the factors contributing to positive or negative development in adolescents who have experienced traumatic events. The question is whether the traumas themselves, or the post-event psychological reactions, are the contributing factors to somatic health problems and acting out. Can positive self-esteem or a good social network contribute towards reducing the risk of psychological health problems following traumatic events?


Stensland, S., Dyb, G., Thoresen, S., Wentzel-Larsen, T., & Zwart, J. A. (2013). Potentially traumatic interpersonal events, psychological distress and recurrent headache in a population-based cohort of adolescents: the HUNT study. BMJ Open, 3(7). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002997