Are first born children less liable to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Posted on 28th June 2013

Are first born children less liable to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Research cites Dickens and Pepys as historic examples

Research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by a Professor at the University of Chester has revealed sufferers are almost never the first born in a family - with Dickens and Pepys as famous examples.

Charles Dickens was the second born in his family and Samuel Pepys was the fifth child out of 11. These historical examples show that PTSD was around long before the claims it became linked with any modern day ‘compensation culture’
Professor Ben Green

Professor Ben Green has been exploring the issue of PTSD in his clinical practice and noticed that almost all his patients suffering from the disorder were not the first born in a family.

His paper exploring the subject, written with Emily Griffiths, who recently completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield, has been published in Psychology, Health and Medicine.

PTSD can result in a number of symptoms – nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance behaviour which can sometimes result in those affected not being able to perform their jobs properly. For example, a police officer involved in a severe car accident may avoid car use, which in turn could affect their employment.

Not all who experience trauma suffer from the disorder, with only around 30% suffering such an event developing PTSD.

Professor Green said: “Several reasons why some people suffer from PTSD and others not have already been explored but no one had looked at birth order.

“I noticed through my work in practice that sufferers were almost never the first children born in a family, so we decided to look into it in more depth. We collected family histories from my practices and discovered that three quarters of people suffering from PTSD were from a large family.

“We then went to look at national figures and it appears that PTSD doesn’t happen to the first born in a family. Could it be that many children born later into a family take more risks and are therefore more likely to be involved in an accident or could it be that first born children are more ‘protected’ and it’s a result of parenting styles?”

Historical examples of PTSD pre-date the World and Vietnam wars and historical examples of PTSD have included Samuel Pepys, who had horrific dreams about the Great Fire of London in the 17th-century and author Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens was 53 when returning from a trip to Paris on a train to London. He, his partner and mother were involved in a horrific train crash with part of the train collapsing into a river. His party was uninjured but 10 people were killed and around 50 injured. He later described the scene as ‘unimaginable’ and was recorded as having many of the symptoms of PTSD such as: feeling weak and faint; avoiding talking about what had happened; displaying avoidance behaviour and becoming increasingly distressed by travel.

Professor Green added: “Charles Dickens was the second born in his family and Samuel Pepys was the fifth child out of 11. These historical examples show that PTSD was around long before the claims it became linked with any modern day ‘compensation culture’.”