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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, complex PTSD, and Loneliness Study

This study explored Complex PTSD and loneliness. Specifically, social and emotional loneliness to determine if there was a relationship with CPTSD symptoms. Participants met the criteria for PTSD and were assessed for social and emotional loneliness. Education, sex, area where they lived (urban or rural), education level and household income.  Other covariates assessed include participants exposure to traumatic and adverse childhood events.

The results showed a decline in PTSD diagnostic requirements with participants 60 years old and older which follows other research. The study’s hypothesis that PTSD, CPTSD, and loneliness were positively correlated was partially supported. Emotional loneliness was associated with PTSD and “disturbances in self‐organization” (DSO) symptoms. Although, social loneliness was associated with DSO symptoms but not PTSD symptoms.

The authors ended with a wondering of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Does CPTSD cause increased levels of perceived loneliness or is social and emotional loneliness a risk factor for CPTSD? More research is needed to determine the temporal relationship with loneliness and CPTSD. “The authors proposed that a loneliness‐induced sense of hypervigilance at night might partially explain the observed relationship between CPTSD symptoms and loneliness”(13). Loneliness is linked with increase negative cognitive biases which can ultimately lead to avoidance. Avoidance is associated with relational difficulties and social withdrawal. Social withdrawal is a common effect of PTSD and CPTSD. This is not new clinical information. What this study does is provide context for how these specific factors interact with one another and create increase symptomology.

Fox, R., Hyland, P., Coogan, A. N., Cloitre, M., & McHugh Power, J. (2021).
Posttraumatic stress disorder, complex PTSD and subtypes of loneliness among older adults. Journal of
Clinical Psychology, 1–22.