Subthreshold posttraumatic stress disorder in the world health organization world mental health surveys

Katie A. Mclaughlin, Karestan C. Koenen, Matthew J. Friedman, Ayelet Meron Ruscio, Elie G. Karam, Victoria Shahly, Dan J. Stein, Eric D. Hill, Maria Petukhova, Jordi Alonso, Laura Helena Andrade, Matthias C. Angermeyer, Guilherme Borges, Giovanni De Girolamo, Ron De Graaf, Koen Demyttenaere, Silvia E. Florescu, Maya Mladenova, Jose Posada-Villa, Kate M. ScottTadashi Takeshima, Ronald C. Kessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Although only a few people exposed to a traumatic event (TE) develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), symptoms that do not meet full PTSD criteria are common and often clinically significant. Individuals with these symptoms sometimes have been characterized as having subthreshold PTSD, but no consensus exists on the optimal definition of this term. Data from a large cross-national epidemiologic survey are used in this study to provide a principled basis for such a definition. METHODS: The World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys administered fully structured psychiatric diagnostic interviews to community samples in 13 countries containing assessments of PTSD associated with randomly selected TEs. Focusing on the 23,936 respondents reporting lifetime TE exposure, associations of approximated DSM-5 PTSD symptom profiles with six outcomes (distress-impairment, suicidality, comorbid feardistress disorders, PTSD symptom duration) were examined to investigate implications of different subthreshold definitions. RESULTS: Although consistently highest outcomes for distress-impairment, suicidality, comorbidity, and PTSD symptom duration were observed among the 3.0% of respondents with DSM-5 PTSD rather than other symptom profiles, the additional 3.6% of respondents meeting two or three of DSM-5 criteria B-E also had significantly elevated scores for most outcomes. The proportion of cases with threshold versus subthreshold PTSD varied depending on TE type, with threshold PTSD more common following interpersonal violence and subthreshold PTSD more common following events happening to loved ones. CONCLUSIONS: Subthreshold DSM-5 PTSD is most usefully defined as meeting two or three of DSM-5 criteria B-E. Use of a consistent definition is critical to advance understanding of the prevalence, predictors, and clinical significance of subthreshold PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-384
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Epidemiology
  • Nosology
  • Partial PTSD
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • PTSD
  • Subthreshold PTSD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


Dive into the research topics of 'Subthreshold posttraumatic stress disorder in the world health organization world mental health surveys'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this