# Lifetime post-traumatic stress disorder in older individuals with a history of institutional upbringing in childhood: the role of social acknowledgement and stressful life events

Eising, Carla M; Voelkle, Manuel C; Rohner, Shauna L; Maercker, Andreas; Thoma, Myriam V (2021). Lifetime post-traumatic stress disorder in older individuals with a history of institutional upbringing in childhood: the role of social acknowledgement and stressful life events. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 12(1):1915578.

## Abstract

Background: Child maltreatment (CM), particularly in institutional contexts, can affect the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research suggests that factors during CM (e.g. severity, variety, duration) and in the aftermath of CM (e.g. stressful life events, and social acknowledgement, i.e. the degree to which an individual feels validated and supported following a traumatic event) can explain some of the heterogeneity in PTSD development. However, there is a lack of research on long-term correlates of CM and mitigating factors, with only a few studies having been conducted with older survivors of institutional upbringing. Such research is relevant, given the long-term associations between CM and the older age status of many survivors. Objective: The current study examined the link between CM and PTSD in older individuals with a history of institutional upbringing (risk group; RG) and a matched control group (CG). Differences in stressful life events and social acknowledgement were also investigated. Method: Participants were n = 116 RG (M $_{age}$ = 70.25 years, 41% female) and n = 122 CG (M $_{age}$ = 70.71 years, 51% female). Data was assessed using self-report questionnaires and a clinical interview. Results: The RG reported higher levels of exposure to CM. Lifetime PTSD showed a bigger association with the level of exposure to CM, compared to having an institutional upbringing. Participants with higher CM levels reported more stressful life events. High levels of social acknowledgement mediated the relationship between CM and PTSD in the CG. Conclusions: Exposure to CM had a stronger association with PTSD than a history of institutional upbringing. In the CG, the survivors' perception of social acknowledgement ameliorated lifetime PTSD to a small extent. A critical issue for policy makers should be to enhance safeguarding measures against CM exposure, not only in institutional contexts, but also more generally, given the link to PTSD.

## Abstract

Background: Child maltreatment (CM), particularly in institutional contexts, can affect the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research suggests that factors during CM (e.g. severity, variety, duration) and in the aftermath of CM (e.g. stressful life events, and social acknowledgement, i.e. the degree to which an individual feels validated and supported following a traumatic event) can explain some of the heterogeneity in PTSD development. However, there is a lack of research on long-term correlates of CM and mitigating factors, with only a few studies having been conducted with older survivors of institutional upbringing. Such research is relevant, given the long-term associations between CM and the older age status of many survivors. Objective: The current study examined the link between CM and PTSD in older individuals with a history of institutional upbringing (risk group; RG) and a matched control group (CG). Differences in stressful life events and social acknowledgement were also investigated. Method: Participants were n = 116 RG (M $_{age}$ = 70.25 years, 41% female) and n = 122 CG (M $_{age}$ = 70.71 years, 51% female). Data was assessed using self-report questionnaires and a clinical interview. Results: The RG reported higher levels of exposure to CM. Lifetime PTSD showed a bigger association with the level of exposure to CM, compared to having an institutional upbringing. Participants with higher CM levels reported more stressful life events. High levels of social acknowledgement mediated the relationship between CM and PTSD in the CG. Conclusions: Exposure to CM had a stronger association with PTSD than a history of institutional upbringing. In the CG, the survivors' perception of social acknowledgement ameliorated lifetime PTSD to a small extent. A critical issue for policy makers should be to enhance safeguarding measures against CM exposure, not only in institutional contexts, but also more generally, given the link to PTSD.

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