When you hear the term PTSD, what do you think of? Unfortunately many people view this disorder as solely a military issue. They assume only those who have served on the front lines could suffer from PTSD.
This view of PTSD is too narrow.
In reality, there are many more causes of PTSD. Many traumas – including those experienced by teens – can lead to this disorder. And, many factors can affect how a person handles PTSD. If a parent doesn’t have a full understanding of this, they could miss the signs their teen is suffering and fail to get them the help they need. Left untreated, teens often turn to drugs or other dangerous behaviors to try to cope with their symptoms.
What Causes PTSD in Teens?
To prevent this downward spiral, parents should educate themselves on PTSD in teens. It’s important to know what events are likely to cause PTSD and some common warning signs. Here’s a quick overview:
- Abuse: Emotional, sexual, or physical abuse is, of course, extremely traumatic for teens. Even the briefest periods of abuse can cause distrust in all adults and result in anger, fear, and depression.
- Violence: Instances of PTSD-triggering violence include seeing someone get stabbed or shot, being the victim of violence, or seeing their parent beaten by a relative or friend.
- Death: Watching a loved one die (even in a safe healthcare setting) can trigger PTSD. Teens may or may not have the emotional maturity to handle this experience and develop a fear of illness, hospitals, and death.
- Injury/Illness: If a teen suffers a serious injury, this can lead to PTSD. Examples include extensive burns, prolonged illness, or even a broken leg.
- House fires: Teens who witness a house fire or who were inside the home when it caught fire are at particular risk for PTSD. This experience can leave them feeling helpless and guilty.
- Car accidents: These don’t have to be major to result in PTSD in teens. Even mild accidents can be extremely disturbing and cause PTSD symptoms.
- Natural disasters: Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes can be extremely traumatic events. Teens who survive these disasters often develop this disorder.
Do You Know the Warning Signs of PTSD in Teens?
Parents can watch for common symptoms of PTSD following any of these occurrences. The most obvious signs are those related to the original event.
It’s typical for teens suffering from PTSD to avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event or to frequently relive the event. If your teen reacts poorly in situations that resemble a traumatic event, they’re showing signs of PTSD. For example, if traumatized by a natural disaster, they may be terrified during normal rain storms. Or survivors of a car accident may constantly fear their loved ones will be hurt or die in a car crash.
Other signs of PTSD in teens include:
- Aggressive or impulsive behavior
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sudden anger or irritation
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Frequent fear for safety
- Avoidance of certain people or places
- Changes in school performance
- Problems with friends
How to Help Your Teen
Here's the number one tip for parents: don’t ignore the warning signs of PTSD. Consult your family doctor right away.
Effective treatment is available for teens with PTSD, and early treatment can help reduce long-term effects. Therapeutic options include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychological first aid, and play therapy. You'll want to find a therapist who has experience treating PTSD in teens and someone with whom your teen feels at ease.
The proper treatment can set your teen on a healthy road with their trauma behind them and a bright future ahead.
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