What Causes PTSD In Teens?
PTSD in teens is the mental, emotional, and physical fallout following traumatic situation(s). Traumatic events, or an unstable lifestyle, can easily overwhelm a child or teen. Leaving them to believe the world is an unsafe, dangerous, or out-of-control place. Because of the sensitive nature and underdeveloped coping skills of teens, they are more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown about 14 to 43 percent of adolescents will experience at least one traumatic event. Up to 15 percent of girls and 6 percent of boys will develop some form of PTSD.
There are many situations and events that trigger PTSD in adolescents and teens. This includes violent assaults, rape, sexual abuse, emotional and physical abuse, or domestic violence at home. Bullying, car accidents, senseless acts of violence (such as school shootings), natural disasters, a traumatic divorce, family separation, or serious illness can also lead to PTSD in teens.
Trauma and PTSD
PTSD is a mental health problem that many develop following a traumatic event. Although trauma can look different for everyone, it typically involves experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. This includes a car accident, natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, or war.
It is common to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or see changes in sleeping or eating patterns for a period of time after trauma. If symptoms persist for more than a couple months, a diagnosis of PTSD may be appropriate.
Common Symptoms of PTSD in Teens
If your teen has been through a traumatic event, there are some common symptoms to be aware of.
- Reliving the trauma – teens with PTSD may re-live the traumatic event. Nightmares, flashbacks, and/or difficult and disturbing mental images are common.
- Avoidance – those with PTSD tend to avoid things that are reminders of the traumatic event. This might mean avoidance of people, places, activities, or certain objects. They may also avoid opening up or talking about the trauma.
- Emotional numbness – feeling detached, dissociated, and/or numb is typical. The individual experiencing emotional numbness may not be actively trying to numb out. This is often the brains attempt to psychologically “protect” the individual.
- Anxiety – as a result of the trauma, people developing PTSD often have higher levels of stress hormones in the body. These stress hormones can then cause those with PTSD to experience hyper-vigilance. This includes feeling jumpy, on edge, easily startled, or irritable. Anxiety can also contribute to difficulties with concentration and sleep.
EFFECTS OF PTSD IN ADOLESCENTS AND TEENS
Adolescents dealing with PTSD can find themselves in a downward spiral of thoughts and actions. This can be difficult to get out of without proper help and guidance. Untreated PTSD in teens may result in a number of concurrent illnesses and disorders, including:
Inability to form bonds with others
Inappropriate sexual behavior
How Can You Help Your Teen?
Watching your teen struggle with the symptoms of PTSD can be extremely challenging. There are things you can do to help support your teen’s healing.
- Encourage your teen to talk – provide your child with ongoing opportunities to talk about the traumatic experience. Or simply spend one-on-one time together. These are crucial aspects for coping with PTSD. Having a strong support system can assist the teen in feeling safe and encouraged.
- Don’t pressure your teen – talking about traumatic events is difficult for anyone. Especially when it comes to teenagers. Although, it is a fundamental aspect of healing and may take your child time to open up.
- Be honest – if your teen has experienced trauma, steer clear of acting like everything is OK. Age may be a factor in how much information you share. Although, it is important to be honest and open with your child.
- Education – helping educate your teen about anxiety, trauma, and PTSD is vital to his or her well-being. Knowing the facts can help your teen understand their personal experience and validate what they are going through.
SYMPTOMS OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER IN ADOLESCENTS AND TEENS
Children and adolescents who have been through any severe trauma often have post-traumatic stress symptoms. They can last for months or even years after the event. The severity of symptoms depends greatly on support from family members, the victim’s proximity to the event, and how soon treatment for PTSD is sought. Symptoms of PTSD will typically develop within the first three months following the traumatic event. The symptoms may not surface for months or years later.
Common symptoms of PTSD in children and teens include:
Marked change in behavior, such as reckless behavior or angry outbursts
Regression to past childlike tendencies (such as bedwetting or sucking a thumb)
Loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities
Complaints of headaches and stomach aches
Shying away from physical contact
Appears shaky or nervous and stressed out
Increased arousal and hyper-vigilance
“Flashbacks” of the traumatic event
Trouble concentrating in school
Avoidance of memories or situations that trigger memories of the event
Unfounded fears or consuming worry
Inability to trust others
How Can Your Teen Cope?
Many teens with PTSD develop unhealthy coping strategies. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to “numb out” the difficult feelings associated with the experienced trauma(s).
- Keeping a routine – structure and schedule are important aspects of stability in any teenager’s life. This becomes even more important when a teen is struggling with PTSD. This is because he or she tends to view the world through a heightened, fear-based lens. Maintaining regular meal, homework, activity, etc. times can help reduce this fear and provide a sense of security.
- Breathing techniques – anxiety associated with PTSD triggers can be greatly reduced by slowing one’s breathing.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – a common side effect of anxiety associated with PTSD is muscle tension. Unfortunately, this physical muscle tension can signal “danger” in the brain, causing hyper-vigilance. By learning progressive muscle relaxation, your teen can manage the muscle tension. This will increase their sense of calmness.
- Exercise – physical activity can help with mood-stabilization. It helps decrease anxiety and maintain a regular sleep schedule.
- Nutrition – food can have a significant impact on your teen’s mood. For example, eating unhealthy foods may impact their ability to manage emotions. A healthy, well-rounded diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats, is a great approach for coping with PTSD.
- Engage in activities – most likely, there is one (or more) activity your teen enjoys doing. There may be a decreased sense of motivation to engage as a result of PTSD. It is imperative he or she continues to participate in these enjoyable activities. Getting back to a loved sport or hobby can greatly contribute to healing. In other words, it helps them manage the symptoms of PTSD.
- Learn grounding techniques – a common side effect of trauma and PTSD are flashbacks. Although flashbacks are a normal response to a traumatic event, they can be extremely frightening. Learning ways to ground oneself and come back to the present moment helps teens move through flashbacks in a healthy way. Some quick ways to ground oneself include:
- Name all the objects around you
- Run cold water over your hands or splash your face with water
- Check in with yourself and label the emotions you are experiencing
- Pick out five red, blue, green, etc. objects in the room
- Take off your shoes, put your feet on the ground, and describe what you feel
- Repeat a mantra such as “I am here; I am safe.”
ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH FACILITY FOR PTSD
Proper treatment following a traumatic event is vital to prevent PTSD complications. With proper evaluation, treatment, and support, most teens who have PTSD recover. They go on to live happy and productive lives. If your child is struggling with PTSD, or coping with a traumatic life event, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional right away. Proper mental health treatment can help a child or teen develop the coping skills necessary to resume their daily lives.
Learning ways to cope with the unfortunate side effects of PTSD is significant. Especially when it comes to healthy symptom management. Many teens with PTSD may require more formal mental health intervention. If you think your teen may need further treatment, contact Polaris Teen Center at 1-844-836-0222. Find out more about treatment options and services.