Teens and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

teens and post-traumatic stress disorder

Being a teenager is a time of transition between childhood and adulthood, bringing with it a unique set of challenges. Yet when this transition is exacerbated by extreme circumstances such as trauma, the unfortunate result may be post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The importance of treating teens for this condition as soon as possible cannot be emphasized enough. Young people are already quite impressionable, so it’s not difficult to imagine the consequence extreme trauma can have. Without help, this condition may very continue to haunt adolescents into adulthood.

Recognizing teenage PTSD

The impetus for PTSD will be an impactful life event that causes shock and trauma for the teen. An adolescent may be a victim of physical or sexual abuse that leaves them devastated. Sexual abuse in particular can present a host of difficulties, as the teen may not be able to make sense of the abuse or may have deep shame about it. A different traumatic experience may include the teen was being involved in a car accident in which someone close to him was killed or experiencing the severe stress and strain of a natural disaster.

A teen can subsequently be plagued with memories of a traumatic event and may experience similar emotions to those encountered during the event. Others may avoid discussing the event altogether as a means of blocking it out which includes avoiding peoples or places that trigger memories of said event. Teens with PTSD may be easily rattled or be subject to intense emotions and may have trouble in school, either with peers or teachers who are unable to understand.

Usually, someone with PTSD will also experience interrupted sleep or insomnia due to nightmares or dreams that cause memories of the traumatic event. Because of this, the young person’s daily life is often affected, as sleep difficulties will make attending to responsibilities more difficult. They may not enjoy certain activities that they may have taken interest in during the past. Stomachaches or headaches are also common.

Due to the problems presented by PTSD, it is easy to realize that this disorder can adversely affect an adolescent’s development into proper maturity.


Due to the extreme stress that may result from PTSD, teens and parents may both ask themselves when the signs will subside. This naturally depends on both the severity of the event and other individual factors. Oftentimes, the teen may experience additional symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or abuse of controlled substances, all of which should be treated simultaneously. The earlier that treatment for PTSD begins, the greater the likelihood will be that the adolescent will eventually recover from the trauma. Through proper treatment the adolescent will learn how to better manage the pain of the trauma over time. Family will naturally want to be understanding and sensitive at this time due to the struggles at hand. Of course, a discharge plan should be in place to provide further assistance as the patient returns home.


The recovery from PTSD understandably takes time and effort due to the distress involved. It is important to note effective treatment is indeed possible. First, an adolescent will need to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine what treatment approach will work best for them. PTSD treatment for an adolescent can involve the use of medication and/or therapy. Antidepressant or antianxiety medication may provide a teen struggling with PTSD relief from different symptoms and will often be more effective when combined with therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to encourage more adaptive forms of behavior that will improve coping skills. Exposure therapy allows the teen to safely experience a situation that causes fear, so that adaptive skills may be improved. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements to encourage better processing of and reaction to the disturbing memories.

Other therapy methods that may prove helpful include group therapy and family therapy. Group therapy allows teens to be around others who are also experiencing PTSD and discuss the complicated emotions that may arise from it. Participants may be able to offer each other valuable advice which has assisted them in their own recovery. Group therapy can help to lessen the odds of instead resorting to substance abuse or other negative habits to cope. Family therapy, helps parents and siblings gain a better understanding of how to help those that are experiencing the overwhelming effects of PTSD. By extending a listening ear and sympathetic heart, others can help a teen with PTSD  improve their symptoms and gain a lasting recovery.

Help with PTSD

Whatever the source of trauma, White River Academy can help. We are a qualified residential boarding school that helps guide young men into healthy adulthood while also dealing with any and all addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring disorders. To learn more about our programs you can call us at 866-520-0905 to speak with a member of our team.

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