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PTSD in Teens

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops when a person has experienced or witnessed a scary, dangerous, or shocking event. The condition is relatively common, with around three in every fifty Americans being diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. People with PTSD will experience intense or disturbing thoughts and feelings that stem from the traumatic event they endured. They may relive the event for days, weeks, months, or even years, through mechanisms such as nightmares and flashbacks.

More in-depth knowledge about PTSD came about during the years of the world wars when it was then referred to as “shell shock.” However, PTSD is not just reserved for veterans and can impact people of any age, nationality, ethnicity, and culture – this includes teenagers.

Causes of PTSD in Teens

Teens can develop PTSD from experiencing a range of traumatic events. This could include:

  • Being a part of or witnessing a violent incident
  • Being threatened with death or injury
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Having a serious injury
  • The COVID-19 pandemic – a study found that nearly one in every three teens has experienced symptoms of PTSD due to the pandemic
  • Witnessing a school shooting
  • War
  • Natural disasters
  • Having a near-death experience, such as a car accident
  • Childhood traumas e.g., divorce or abandonment
  • Watching a loved one fight a serious illness
  • Losing a loved one

Sometimes the traumatic experience may be known to parents, making it somewhat easier to understand why their teen may be acting a certain way. However, other traumas a teen may have experienced can be harder to define or may even be unknown to the parent – this is often the case with emotional or sexual abuse.

How Common is PTSD in Teenagers?

PTSD in teens is relatively common, with an estimated 5% aged thirteen to eighteen experiencing the condition. In fact, some research shows that the teen population may have slightly higher rates of PTSD than adults. Studies also show that teenage girls are more likely to experience PTSD than boys, with the prevalence standing at 8% and 2.3%, respectively.

These statistics are no surprise when you consider that a study found two-thirds of children experience at least one trauma before reaching sixteen years old. The chance of the child developing PTSD from this trauma depends on:

  • How intensely they were exposed to it
  • If they have experienced any previous traumatic events
  • How much support they have
  • If they are dealing with any other mental health conditions

Recognizing PTSD in Teens: Signs and Symptoms

PTSD in teens can sometimes be difficult to spot. This time of adolescence is extremely challenging, with teens having to navigate through hormonal, social, school, and work-related changes.

While it is nothing unusual for teens to sometimes be moody or irritable, it is vital for parents and caregivers to spot if a mental illness may be at play. PTSD in teens does not usually go away on its own and can lead to further issues later in life if left untreated.

Every person experiences PTSD differently – though common PTSD symptoms in teens include:

  • Difficulty focusing – this could result in a drop in performance at school
  • Emotional numbness
  • Finding it hard to enjoy activities that were once pleasurable
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Avoiding anything or anyone associated with the traumatic event
  • Confusion and inability to make decisions
  • Increased irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Constantly feeling on edge
  • Insomnia
  • Constantly remembering or re-experiencing the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks
  • Increased nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

These PTSD symptoms are similar to those of adults, though teens tend to display more aggressive behavior, impulsivity, and participate in “traumatic reenactment” by integrating characteristics of the trauma into their lives.

If a teen in your life is exhibiting signs of PTSD for over a month and they are interfering with their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, a mental health professional should be contacted. They can employ evidence-based techniques to assist in overcoming the trauma, better manage their PTSD symptoms, and move past their disorder.

Consequences of Untreated PTSD in Teens

PTSD in teens should always be taken seriously, with the condition leading to serious consequences if left untreated. Although the initial intense trauma will decrease after a few months have passed, the remaining symptoms can last for years and interfere with ongoing daily life in many ways.

This includes an increased chance of:

  • Depression
  • Chronic sleep issues
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts

How Do You Treat PTSD in Teenagers?

Managing PTSD at any age is a challenge, but this is especially the case for a teenager. Thankfully, PTSD is a treatable condition, with trauma being able to be processed and overcome. Most people who undergo treatment for it actually come through with greater resilience and understanding of themselves than before.

The first step in helping a teen in your life move past the traumatic event is to show concern and support for them. A strong supportive network made up of parents, friends, and other family members can make all the difference when overcoming PTSD in teens. It can be extremely challenging to open up when talking about the traumatic event or their feelings attached to it as it may trigger their symptoms – letting your teen know that you are there to talk if they need to can go a long way.

The next step is to contact a health professional in order for the teen to be diagnosed. Once their pediatrician has seen them, they may be referred to a psychiatrist or therapist who can diagnose them. Teens will likely need to answer questions about their symptoms, mental health history, and have medical tests carried out to ensure the correct diagnosis and identify any other conditions at play.

There are a number of therapies that can successfully treat PTSD in teens. One of these is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy teaches people how to recognize triggers, thoughts, and emotions that they may be experiencing linked to the traumatic event. In this way, coping mechanisms can be set up, and PTSD symptoms do not hold as much power over the person’s day-to-day life.

There are also numerous kinds of CBT, including cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and group therapy. Therapists may use different strategies to deal with teen PTSD depending on the severity of their trauma, any other mental health issues they are dealing with, and what works best for them personally.

Another kind of therapy, called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), utilizes specific eye movements and cognitive therapies to allow an individual to work through their trauma. The reprocessing technique may sound strange, but it has been successful in helping people process even the most severe traumas.

For individuals that do not have speech capacity or children and teens that may be too young to process the trauma directly, play therapy may be used. This psychological strategy uses play as a mechanism for communication and expression to deal with the difficult emotions that PTSD brings up.

Alongside therapy, medication may also be prescribed to teens who are dealing with PTSD. The symptoms they are displaying will determine which kind of medicine will be recommended by doctors. This could include antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.

Contact Us

Traumatic experiences can turn a person’s world upside down, leaving them unable to trust the world around them and feeling distant from themselves and their loved ones. PTSD in teens is extremely difficult to navigate, though thankfully Rivers Bend center can make the process a little easier.

Rivers Bend serves the needs of adolescents between thirteen and seventeen years old, to overcome a range of mental health concerns. The treatment facility and outdoor adventure program provide an opportunity for escapism and recuperation for teen trauma survivors. Expert staff put each individual’s needs as a top priority and approaches them from a non-judgmental perspective.

No matter if a teen has developed PTSD from a school shooting, violence, or abuse, Rivers Bend can provide personalized treatment options to best approach each child’s circumstances. No one has to suffer from teen PTSD alone, please contact our treatment center today to start the journey to recovery for you or your family member.

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