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Traumatic events, PTSD, and psychiatric comorbidity in forensic patients – assessed by questionnaires and diagnostic interview

Samia Sirag Garieballa, Maggie Schauer, Frank Neuner, Evangelia Saleptsi, Tilman Kluttig, Thomas Elbert, Klaus Hoffmann and Brigitte S Rockstroh*

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, and Centre for Psychiatry Reichenau, Germany

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Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 2006, 2:7  doi:10.1186/1745-0179-2-7

Published: 4 April 2006



Relationships between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), comorbid illness and experiences of traumatic stressors have been reported for large and different groups. The present study investigated this relationship specifically for patients with psychiatric disorders admitted to a forensic ward because of criminal behavior.


In sixteen German and fifteen Sudanese forensic patients the prevalence of PTSD and comorbid symptoms of anxiety and depression were assessed and related to traumatic experiences, emotional distress, and stressful life events over four developmental periods.


In the total sample, subjects had experienced an average of five traumatic events, the first one occurring early in childhood, and 39% met criteria of current, 55% of lifetime PTSD, the diagnosis being more likely in patients with a greater number of reported traumatic experiences. Neglect and emotional abuse in childhood were associated with current PTSD diagnosis. As reported for other populations, comorbid symptoms were frequent with 60% of the sample displaying comorbid anxiety symptoms and 64% comorbid depression. PTSD and comorbidity did not differ between cultures.


Results suggest that forensic patients experience multiple traumatic events, usually beginning early in development, so that the assessment of PTSD and comorbid anxiety and depression is recommended for the clinical evaluation. Further studies have to substantiate, whether traumatic stress during developmental stages interact with other factors leading to routes of forensic psychopathology.