How to identify PTSD in children

How to identify PTSD in children

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that develops when the sadness associated with the exposure to unexpected violence, injury or harm does not fade away and instead acquires the form of painful memories. Listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Part V (DSM-5), there is no specific timeframe in which it may develop as a person may experience its symptoms within the first few weeks or years after experiencing the traumatic incident. While it is true that PTSD does not affect every victim of a traumatized event, studies have shown that the condition affects only those with unusual levels of key hormones involved in stress response like lower-than-normal cortisol level and/or higher-than-normal epinephrine and norepinephrine level.

Though the condition is commonly associated with war veterans and soldiers on the battlefield, it is increasingly affecting both adults and adolescents. Affecting every individual differently, the diagnosis of PTSD is difficult, especially among adolescents, as parents might confuse its symptoms with problems associated with the signs of growing age. Therefore, knowing about some common symptoms exhibited by children with PTSD can help in its proper diagnosis. Some of the symptoms are listed here.

  • Re-experiencing traumatic incident: An adolescent re-experiencing the traumatic event or the pain he/she underwent is a clear indication of the development of PTSD. He/she might have constant upsetting thoughts or memories about the traumatic event, hallucinations and flashbacks, as well as a lot of pain and suffering when thinking about it. Excessive sweating is also a common indicator of re-experiencing the event.
  • Hyper arousal: PTSD makes an adolescent extremely active and alert, leading to a heightened level of anxiety. Adolescents suffering from PTSD usually find it difficult to sleep, feel irritated, have anger outbursts, lack concentration and also feel constantly scared about the things around them.
  • Developing negative thoughts and feelings: A child with PTSD may develop negative thoughts and feelings about themselves or those around them. Distancing oneself from people and places, especially those associated with the traumatic incident, losing interest in positive and important activities, feeling aloof from others and thinking negatively about everything in life are some of the common reactions of a teen battling PTSD.
  • Physical reactions: Headaches and stomach pains are also symptoms exhibited by children with PTSD. The pain is very real for the child and therefore, it is important for adults to not take these signs lightly, as doing so might worsen their condition.
  • Denial of event: Dealing with the experience of the traumatic event is tough for adolescents. Therefore, they might choose to stay in denial and avoid accepting the fact that it ever occurred. When left unaddressed, the memories associated with the traumatic event may lead to the development of PTSD over a period of time.

Seeking PTSD treatment for teens

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), approximately 1 to 6 percent boys, who go through at least one trauma during their life, develop PTSD. While it is true that a few are able to overcome the trauma after a certain period of time, this might not be the case for every individual. Therefore, it is important to seek help from a therapist for PTSD in teens.

White River Academy is a leading therapeutic boarding school for boys aged 12-17 in the United States. With years of experience, our onboard experts offer different teen PTSD treatments to help adolescent boys recover from mental illnesses. If you know a teen battling PTSD, call our 24/7 helpline or chat with our online representative for more information.

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