To Treat or to Prevent? Reducing the Population Burden of Violence-related Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Magdalena Cerda, Melissa Tracy, Katherine M. Keyes, Sandro Galea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Violence-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) remains a prevalent and disabling psychiatric disorder in urban areas. However, the most effective allocation of resources into prevention and treatment to reduce this problem is unknown. We contrasted the impact of two interventions on violence-related PTSD: (1) a population-level intervention intended to prevent violence (i.e., hot-spot policing), and (2) an individual-level intervention intended to shorten PTSD duration (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy - CBT). Methods: We used agent-based modeling to simulate violence and PTSD in New York City under four scenarios: (1) no intervention, (2) targeted policing to hot spots of violence, (3) increased access to CBT for people who suffered from violence-related PTSD, and (4) a combination of the two interventions. Results: Combined prevention and treatment produced the largest decrease in violence-related PTSD prevalence: hot-spot policing plus a 50% increase in CBT for 5 years reduced the annual prevalence of violence-related PTSD from 3.6% (95% confidence interval = 3.5%, 3.6%) to 3.4% (3.3%, 3.5%). It would have been necessary to implement hot-spot policing or to increase CBT by 200% for 10 years for either intervention to achieve the same reduction in isolation. Conclusions: This study provides an empirically informed demonstration that investment in combined strategies that target social determinants of mental illness and provide evidence-based treatment to those affected by psychiatric disorders can produce larger reductions in the population burden from violence-related PTSD than either preventive or treatment interventions alone. However, neither hot-spot policing nor CBT, alone or combined, will produce large shifts in the population prevalence of violence-related PTSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)681-689
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 25 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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