teen suffering from ptsd


PTSD in teens is the mental, emotional, and physical fallout following traumatic experiences. What constitutes a trauma varies from person to person. Sometimes trauma is a singular event like the loss of a beloved family member, or an incident of violence, or assault. Sometimes it is more nuanced, like moving to a new town and leaving friends and family behind, being bullied at school, or divorce and family separation. These experiences in a young person’s life that can easily overwhelm a child or teen, leaving them to see the world as 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.


PTSD is a mental health problem that many develop following a traumatic event. Although trauma can look different for everyone, many think of it as being part of 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 of months, a diagnosis of PTSD may be appropriate.

Children and adolescents who have been through 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. Teen PTSD symptoms will typically develop within the first three months following the traumatic event but, sometimes, symptoms may not surface for months or years later. Common symptoms include:

  • 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 avoiding people, places, activities, or certain objects. They may also avoid opening up or talking about the trauma, have a difficult time trusting others, or may lose interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Emotional numbness – Feeling detached, dissociated, and/or numb is typical. The individual experiencing emotional numbness may not be actively trying to numb it out. This is often the brain’s attempt to psychologically “protect” the individual. This may even manifest as regression to past childlike tendencies, such as bedwetting or sucking a thumb.
  • 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, often causing low self-esteem and trouble concentrating in school or during activities. Anxiety in teens after trauma can also contribute to difficulties with sleep.
  • Physical discomfort – Often accompanying anxiety can be a sense of discomfort or even illness following a traumatic experience. This can manifest as headaches, stomachaches, or a sense of discomfort from physical contact, often leading those with PTSD to shy away from physical contact altogether.
teen suffering with ptsd


Adolescents dealing with PTSD can find that their emotional and behavioral symptoms begin to overtake their lives. It is imperative that a teen with PTSD receive the proper help to treat these symptoms. Untreated PTSD in teens may result in a number of concurrent illnesses and disorders, including:

Anxiety disorder


Extreme aggression

Behavioral problems

Inability to form bonds with others

Inappropriate sexual behavior

Substance abuse

Self-harm or suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Borderline personality disorder

center for teen ptsd
treatment for teen ptsd


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 trauma recovery:


  • Encourage your teen to talk with safe and supportive people – provide your child with ongoing opportunities to talk about the traumatic experience or simply spend one-on-one time together. These are crucial aspects of 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. However, it is a fundamental aspect of healing, and it 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. Knowing how to talk to a teen about PTSD may be as simple as being honest and open.
  • 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.
  • Get help – Find a mental health professional for your child who specializes in the treatment of trauma and PTSD.


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). However, there are healthy ways to cope with teen PTSD, including:


  • 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 meals, 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 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 is 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 as “I am here. I am safe.”
teen treatment center polaris


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, but it is often difficult to know when to seek professional help for teen PTSD. If you think your teen may need further treatment, contact Polaris Teen Center at 1-844-836-0222 to find out more about our treatment options and services.