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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How we talk about it: Stressful life events, family communication and PTSD among Public School Adolescents

  • Author(s): Acuna, Maria Alejandra
  • Advisor(s): Franke, Todd
  • et al.

Guided by the theory of inhibition and confrontation, this dissertation examines the relationship between stressful life events, family communication and PTSD development among diverse (46.9% Latina/o, 18.4% Armenian, 18.4% White, and 16.3% other) west coast public school adolescents (n=98) referred for counseling in schools. Secondary analysis of a cross-sectional survey was conducted and revealed that all adolescents in this sample endorsed at least one stressful event in their lifetime with an average of 7 lifetime events, including illness, death, and indirect and direct violence exposure. Exactly half of the sample reported PTSD symptoms in the clinical range with re-experiencing and arousal symptoms the most commonly endorsed. Adolescents reported both open and problem family communication with higher open family communication scale scores than problem family communication. Bivariate relationships showed that open family communication was negatively associated to PTSD symptom severity, the number of lifetime stressful events and problem family communication was positively associated to PTSD symptom severity, and family storytelling style was negatively associated to avoidance symptoms. However, in the full regression model only the number of life events and problem family communication appeared to have an independent effect on PTSD symptom severity scores. Testing for potential moderation effects of family communication found no interaction terms significant in this sample. Implications and directions for future research are discussed, including the importance of reducing problem family communication in order for the protective effects of open family communication to flourish and the potential benefits of PTSD screening in schools.

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