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Risk Factors and Causes


Dr. Patel
By definition, a trauma-related disorder is caused by a traumatic event. It is one of the few disorders for which we know the exact cause. However, there are other factors, sometimes called predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors, that influence the likelihood of developing a trauma-related disorder, its severity, and its duration. Dr. Phillips, can you tell us about some of these factors?

Dr. Phillips
Sure, Dr. Patel. There are several biopsychosocial factors that are considered to be predisposing. This means they exist prior to any trauma exposure and make a person more vulnerable to suffering a trauma-related disorder should they ever experience a traumatic event. Common predisposing factors include:

  • Childhood emotional problems or prior mental disorders
  • Exposure to prior trauma, especially during childhood
  • Childhood adversity, such as family dysfunction or economic deprivation
  • Minority racial or ethnic status
  • Cultural characteristics, such as self-blaming coping strategies
  • Being female, and
  • Being a younger adult at the time of trauma exposure

Precipitating factors are those factors that have to do with specific aspects of the traumatic event itself. These include:

  • Severity of the trauma
  • Perceived life threat
  • Personal injury
  • Interpersonal violence, especially trauma perpetrated by a caregiver
  • For military personnel, witnessing atrocities or killing the enemy, and
  • Dissociation that occurs during the trauma

Perpetuating factors are factors that come into play after the trauma has occurred. These factors deepen and prolong trauma-related distress. Common perpetuating factors include:

  • Negative appraisals of the event
  • The use of maladaptive coping strategies, such as avoidance, substance use, and isolation or withdrawal
  • Subsequent exposure to repeated, upsetting reminders
  • Subsequent adverse life events, and
  • Financial and other trauma-related losses