PTSD in Teens (An Overview for Parents)
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a serious condition that affects many people around the world. Unfortunately, some of the people experiencing PTSD are teenagers, who can be severely affected by incidents happening in their young lives.
Post-traumatic stree disorder occurs when someone is triggered by something that reminds them of a traumatic event. When we experience trauma, the amygdala is activated. This part of the brain is commonly associated with fear and other stress responses, and it initiates the “fight, flight, or freeze” response in the face of danger, stress, or trauma.
Typically, after a dangerous or stressful event is over, our brain goes back to normal. However, when someone is experiencing PTSD, it means that their amygdala hasn’t gone back to normal. Rather, it remains on high alert and will react with a stress response to anything that reminds them of the original traumatic incident.
Teenagers may be particularly vulnerable to traumatic events. In fact, there are many mental health facilities that treat only teens due to the fact that they often require specialized care. Because their brains are still developing, a traumatic event can potentially cause high levels of stress, anxiety, and fear that may be difficult to overcome. While this is the case for some adults as well, teens may be particularly susceptible to PTSD. In this article, we will discuss what causes PTSD in teens and the ways in which they are affected by it.
What Causes PTSD in Teens?
Any kind of traumatic event can result in PTSD. Anytime someone is confronted with a severely traumatic event in their life, there is a chance that they will have lasting consequences as a result. Some events that may cause PTSD to develop are:
- Serious illness
- Severe injury or other physical trauma
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Repeated verbal abuse
- Experiencing a natural disaster
- Experiencing a man-man disaster or tragedy
- Losing someone close to them, especially after witnessing a difficult struggle
- Witnessing someone close to them go through traumatic events
- Car accidents
- Being present during acts of violence or abuse
How to Recognize PTSD
When PTSD occurs, there are many signs and signals apparent, some more obvious than others. Some of the signs to watch out for when you suspect the teen in your life is experiencing PTSD are:
- Avoidance: Certain things will serve as “triggers” for those with PTSD. If someone you love is experiencing PTSD, they may avoid certain places, people, activities, or other things that can make them relive their traumatic experience. For example, someone with PTSD as a result of a car accident may not want to enter a car at all.
- Flashbacks and/or Bad Dreams: Additionally, people living with PTSD often relive the traumatic event(s) through flashbacks or nightmares. This can bleed into their daily life as well, making them tired or unable to focus.
- Physical Reactions: Additionally, someone suffering from PTSD may have extreme physical reactions when reminded of the event. They may experience an increased heart rate, sweating, nausea, and even vomiting.
- Loss of Interest: Furthermore, if someone you love is going through PTSD, they may show a sudden lack of interest in activities that once were exciting to them. They may be avoiding these activities because they remind them of the traumatic event, or they may feel closed off from the world and no longer interested in the things they once enjoyed.
- Mood Swings: Teens experiencing PTSD may also experience frequent or sudden mood swings. They may seem cold and detached at times and then may switch over to being angry or upset. They may seem depressed one moment and then as if nothing is bothering them. Mood swings can be a sign of other issues in your teen, so don’t assume they’re dealing with PTSD solely based on this or any single symptom. However, PTSD is often accompanied by mood swings, and it’s always important to talk to your teen if you notice them changing their mood drastically and often.
How Can PTSD Be Treated?
PTSD is a very complex condition. Some teens who experience trauma may even require life-long treatment in order to deal with their recurring memories and triggers. However, certain treatment options have been found to be highly effective. If you suspect the teen in your life is dealing with PTSD, the most important first step is to sit down and ask them about how they’re feeling. It’s possible that your teen may resist this approach, but it’s important to let them know that you’re there to listen and help in any way you can.
After you’ve spoken with your teen about how they’re feeling, it’s crucial that you get them in to see a qualified mental health professional. This may mean a therapist, a psychiatrist, a counselor, or a psychologist. Ideally, look for a professional who specializes in PTSD treatment. There are many options that a mental health professional can offer to your teen when it comes to their treatment.
A mental health professional skilled in PTSD treatment will help your teen to find coping skills that will assist them when they’re triggered by memories of their traumatic experience. Additionally, they will work to build up their self-image and their outlook on the world. Furthermore, they will seek to calm the symptoms that come along with PTSD, such a stress, anxiety, depression, and isolation.
If you believe the teen in your life may be suffering from PTSD, don’t wait to get help. PTSD is likely to get worse over time if left untreated, and the negative effects can bleed into every aspect of your teen’s life as they grow. Remember that it’s important to not judge your teen based on their symptoms, even if they are frustrating or confusing to you. Instead, take the time to sit down and talk to your teen, letting them know that you support them fully and are there to help. Additionally, always make sure to reach out to a qualified mental health professional in order to ensure that your teen is receiving the care they need.