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12-18 Understanding PTSD in teenagers

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Understanding PTSD in teenagers

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with veterans who return from war, but this disorder also affects children, adolescents, women and men who have experienced a traumatic event. The DSM-5 defines PTSD as a traumatic event that has occurred directly to the victim, is witnessed by the victim, or has occurred to a close family member or friend. The event must be re-experienced in a form of nightmares, memories, or flashbacks which cause extreme distress and hyperarousal that is marked by aggressive or self-harmful behavior. Although 7 to 8 percent of people will experience PTSD, surprisingly this disorder not only affects adults but children and adolescents as well.

What causes adolescent PTSD?

Our current society is unsafe: bombings, terrorist attacks, cyber bullying, not to mention the difficulties that come with being a teenager. Unfortunate events will happen such as getting injured in a sport, falling off a bicycle, getting into a fight with friends. Most children and teenagers are able to cope with these normal events. However, trauma such as rape, murder, emotional and mental abuse, or a violent incident are not considered normal events, and many children and adolescents will not be able to cope with them.

Teenagers are affected by PTSD, whether they have undergone trauma in childhood or in their teenage years. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, children and teenagers who are victims of PTSD may act younger than their age, worry about dying at an early age, experience nightmares, experience physical symptoms such as headaches and abdominal pains, and repeating behaviors that are associated with the trauma. Childhood abuse includes neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Not providing food, shelter, education or appropriate clothing fall under the category of neglect. When children are neglected, their health fails and they are at risk of being bullied at school. Chronic bullying can lead to PTSD as this mentally, and even physically, harms the child or teenager.

What can you do?

Teenagers with PTSD may resort back to childish behaviors such as thumb sucking in school and calling out in class. These teenagers experience delayed development and will often shut themselves out from the world, further perpetuating the cycle and putting them at an increased risk of further bullying and social stigma. So how can parents and family members help teenagers who are victims of PTSD?

Parents can help their child with PTSD through the following ways:

  • Allow your child to regress to an earlier stage if this makes your child feel safe
  • Allow your child to discuss the traumatic events when he or she is ready
  • Reassure your child that his or her feelings are normal
  • Support your child

PTSD can be a debilitating disorder and can ruin many lives. It is important to seek help if your child or adolescent is not coping well with a traumatic event or is at risk of self-harm or harming others. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego offers a safe place for teenagers to cope with and recover from PTSD and other anxiety disorders. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer

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