PTSD Awareness Month: Identifying hidden PTSD in teenagers

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that is commonly believed to affect only war veterans. However, this does not hold true. PTSD is a severe mental health condition that can affect adults, teens and kids when they are exposed to a traumatic or terrifying incident such as, physical harm, sexual assault, violence or a life-threatening situation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately four percent of teenagers in the age group of 13 to 18 years have lifetime prevalence of PTSD.

When a teen is exposed to traumatic events, it increases his/her risk of developing PTSD. This is because facing distressing incident overwhelms his/her ability to cope with such situations and emotions. He/she begins to re-experience the traumatic incident unceasingly, which, in turn, makes him/her experience fear from the event as well as its memory.

However, though it is normal to face difficulties after experiencing certain traumatic events, it is not mandatory that each person who has experienced this will develop symptoms of PTSD.

Factors triggering PTSD in teens

The most common factor that triggers PTSD in teens is the exposure to a traumatic event. However, the severity of the condition varies on the basis of numerous other factors such as, severity of the trauma, its re-occurrence, the caregivers’ reaction to trauma, etc. Apart from these, the condition can also be triggered due to factors that include:

  • Genetics such as relative diagnosed with similar mental health condition
  • Presence of other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety
  • Inborn personality
  • Temperament
  • Bullying
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Witnessing crime or violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Serious injury

Recognizing PTSD symptoms

Teens with PTSD display a number of behavioral or physical changes based on their  level of severity. It is important to know that children who receive the required love and support from their family and friends display controlled PTSD symptoms as compared to those who do not.

While the symptoms of PTSD usually develop within the first three months of experiencing a traumatic event, it can, sometimes, take a few months to years for them to make an appearance. A few of the common symptoms that signify the development of PTSD are:

  • Loss of interest in activities once loved
  • Re-experiencing traumatic event
  • Avoiding situations that trigger incident-related memories
  • Anger and irritation
  • Shyness
  • Reckless behavior
  • Regression
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Frequent headaches and stomachaches
  • Difficulties with physical contact
  • Inability to concentrate in school
  • Negative thought process
  • Changed cognitive functioning
  • Increased arousal
  • Lack of emotions
  • Feelings of sadness and guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to trust others
  • Incident flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Constant worry

Treating PTSD

A teen with PTSD is likely to experience several negative effects and indulge in out-of-place sexual behavior, substance abuse, self-harm activities as well as develop suicidal tendencies. He/she is also at a higher risk of developing other disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), pain disorders, anxiety, depression and numerous others.

Therefore, it is important to recognize the symptoms of this condition and seek help at the right time. The first step towards recovery is self-recognition of the condition and acknowledging that one is in need of help. This will motivate the teen to seek help from the right kind of treatment center at the right time.

As part of the PTSD Awareness Month, which is observed in June every year, let’s spread awareness about this debilitating condition and effective treatment options available for the same.

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