Clinical and Socio-Demographic Characteristics of College Students Exposed to Traumatic Experiences: A Census of Seven College Institutions in Northeastern Brazil

Netto, Liana R.; Cavalcanti-Ribeiro, Patrícia; Pereira, Juliana L.; Nogueira, José F.; Santos, Lene L.; Lira, Sidnei B.; Guedes, Gisela M.; Teles, Carlos A.; Koenen, Karestan C.; Quarantini, Lucas C.; The Trauma, Anxiety Disorders Study Group (TADSG) -. UFBA


Epidemiological studies show that most of the adult population will be exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in the course of his/her life; adolescence and early adulthood are the most vulnerable periods of life for exposure to traumatic experiences (70% of their deaths are due to external causes). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by the development of dysfunctional symptoms that cause distress or social, academic, or occupational impairment, as result of exposure to a traumatic event. The aim of this multicentric study is to establish the proportion of college students, within seven institutions in Northeastern Brazil, who were exposed to traumatic experience and met PTSD criteria.


A one-phase census protocol of seven college institutions in three metropolitan regions in Northeastern Brazil was performed (April to July 2011). All students aged 18 years or older, matriculated and attending their first or final semester were eligible. The self-applied protocol consisted of a socio-demographic questionnaire and the following scales adjusted to Brazilian Portuguese standards Trauma History Questionnaire (THQ), PTSD Checklist-Civilian (PCL-C), Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11). Data were entered into SPSS 17.0.


2213 (85.5%) students consented to participate, and completely filled in the protocols. Of these, 66.1% were woman, mean age 23.9 (SD 6.3), 82.7% were single, and 57.3% attended university outside their native cities. The total PTSD prevalence was 14%, and the median for frequency of trauma exposure was 5 events.


A high frequency of exposure to violence, as well as a high rate of PTSD, suicide attempts, and high-risk sexual behavior was found in Brazilian college students. This highlights the importance of effective public health actions in relation to the prevention and treatment of PTSD and other dysfunctional behaviors resulting from traumatic exposure in young individuals, usually an at risk population for violence and traumatic situations.

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November 4, 2016