PTSD diagnoses among college students has doubled in 5 years, shock data shows

PTSD diagnoses — traditionally associated with war veterans — have more than doubled among college students in just five years, data suggests.

Researchers found that 7.5 percent of students said they had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2022, the latest year available, up from 3.4 percent in 2017.

Most of the surge was recorded during the Covid pandemic — when campuses were closed and many youngsters were asked to stay home or weak masks in class.

The above graph shows how diagnoses with PTSD have ticked up since 2017

The researchers, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said part of the rise can be attributed to loosening of the definition of the condition in 2013.

But they have also suggested ‘broader societal stressors’, such as shootings at schools and social media may be to blame.

This has prompted warnings from some corners over the ‘over-medicalization’ of the younger generation — suggesting this uptick is similar to the story told for other conditions like anxiety. 

PTSD is defined as a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that leaves patients suffering from persistent and distressing thoughts.

In 2013, the definition was widened — however — to include dysphoria, or a deep sense of unease, and a negative world view, which can be confused with depression.

It is not diagnosed by a single test, with patients instead going through a mental assessment with a doctor before a diagnosis is reached.

The uptick was revealed in a research letter published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

PTSD levels are surging among young people, a study has suggested (stock image)

PTSD levels are surging among young people, a study has suggested (stock image)

For the research, scientists analyzed data from more than 390,000 college students  — including 18,000 who reported a PTSD diagnosis.

Data was extracted from the Healthy Minds Study, an annual web-based survey run by the University of Michigan aiming to monitor mental health in the US.

It was then analyzed to estimate the prevalence of PTSD in college students — or the proportion of the group diagnosed with the condition — with results also adjusted for factors including gender, economic status and degree level.

Results also showed an uptick in levels of a similar condition, acute stress disorder, which surged from 0.2 to 0.7 percent of young people.  

‘The magnitude of the rise is indeed shocking,’ the paper’s lead author and counsellor, Yusen Shai, told the New York Times.

Dr Shannon Cusack, a psychologist in Virginia, added that there was a division in the field over whether to define patients suffering from distress due to the Covid pandemic as having PTSD.

‘They’re causing symptosm that are consistent with the PTSD diagnosis,’ Dr Cusack said.

‘Am I not going to treat them because their stressor doesn’t count as a trauma?’

Estimates suggest that five percent of adults in the US suffer from PTSD, linked to a stressful event. Among veterans, seven percent are diagnosed with the condition during their career.