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Health Information For Parents
Someone who is the victim of (or threatened by) violence, injury, or harm can develop a mental health problem called postraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can happen in the first few weeks after an event, or even years later.
People with PTSD often re-experience their trauma in the form of “flashbacks,” memories, nightmares, or scary thoughts, especially when they’re exposed to events or objects that remind them of the trauma.
Psychologists, therapists, or psychiatrists can help people with PTSD deal with hurtful thoughts and bad feelings and get back to a normal life.
PTSD is often associated with soldiers and others on the front lines of war. But anyone — even kids — can develop it after a traumatic event.
Traumas that might bring on PTSD include the unexpected or violent death of a family member or close friend, and serious harm or threat of death or injury to oneself or a loved one.
Situations that can cause such trauma include:
In some cases, PTSD can happen after repeated exposure to these events. Survivor guilt (feelings of guilt for having survived an event in which friends or family members died) also might contribute to PTSD.
People with PTSD have symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression that include many of the following:
Intrusive thoughts or memories of the event
Avoidance of any reminders of the event
Negative thinking or mood since the event happened
Lasting feelings of anxiety or physical reactions
Signs of PTSD in teens are similar to those in adults. But PTSD in children can look a little different. Younger kids can show more fearful and regressive behaviors. They may reenact the trauma through play.
Symptoms usually begin within the first month after the trauma, but they may not show up until months or even years have passed. These symptoms often continue for years after the trauma. In some cases, they may ease and return later in life if another event triggers memories of the trauma. (In fact, anniversaries of the event can often cause a flood of emotions and bad memories.)
PTSD also can come on as a sudden, short-term response (called acute stress disorder) to an event and can last many days or up to one month.
People with PTSD may not get professional help because they think it’s understandable to feel frightened after going through a traumatic event. Sometimes, people may not recognize the link between their symptoms and the trauma.
Teachers, doctors, school counselors, friends, and other family members who know a child or teen well can play an important role in recognizing PTSD symptoms.
Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event gets PTSD. The chances of developing it and how severe it is vary based on things like personality, history of mental health issues, social support, family history, childhood experiences, current stress levels, and the nature of the traumatic event.
Children and teens who go through the most severe trauma tend to have the highest levels of PTSD symptoms. The more frequent the trauma, the higher the rate of PTSD.
Studies show that people with PTSD often have atypical levels of key
involved in the stress response. For instance, research has shown that they have lower-than-normal
levels and higher-than-normal epinephrine and norepinephrine levels — all of which play a big role in the body’s “fight-or-flight” reaction to sudden stress. (It’s known as “fight or flight” because that’s exactly what the body is preparing itself to do — to either fight off the danger or run from it.)
Many people recover from a traumatic event after a period of adjustment. But if your child or teen has experienced a traumatic event and has symptoms of PTSD for more than a month, get help from an expert.
Therapy can help address symptoms of avoidance, intrusive and negative thoughts, and a depressed or negative mood. A therapist will work with your family to help you and your child or teen adjust to what happened and get back to living life.
Mental health professionals who can help include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective for people who develop PTSD. This type of therapy teaches ways to replace negative, unhelpful thoughts and feelings with more positive thinking. Behavioral strategies can be used at a child’s own pace to help desensitize the child to the traumatic parts of what happened so he or she doesn’t feel so afraid of them.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) combines cognitive therapy with directed eye movements. This has been shown to be effective in treating people of all ages with PTSD.
Play therapy is used to treat young children with PTSD who can’t directly deal with the trauma.
In some cases, medicine can help treat serious symptoms of depression and anxiety. This can help those with PTSD cope with school and other daily activities while being treated. Medicine often is used only until someone feels better, then therapy can help get the person back on track.
Finally, group therapy or support groups are helpful because they let kids and teens know that they’re not alone. Groups also provide a safe place to share feelings. Ask your child’s therapist for referrals or suggestions.
Above all, your child needs your support and understanding. Sometimes other family members like parents and siblings will need support too. While family and friends can play a key role in helping someone recover, help usually is needed from a trained therapist.
Here are some other things parents can do to support kids with PTSD:
Be sure to also take care of yourself. Helping your child or teen cope with PTSD can be very challenging and may require a lot of patience and support. Time does heal, and getting good support for your family can help everyone move forward.
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Someone might say you’re obsessed with soccer or something else that you really like, but when someone has a true obsession, it isn’t any fun. Find out more about obsessive-compulsive disorder in this article for kids.
What teachers should know about posttraumatic stress disorder, and how to help students with PTSD.
Many children and teens have problems that affect how they feel, act, or learn. Going to therapy helps them cope better, feel better, and do better.
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Rape is forced, unwanted sexual intercourse. Rape is about power, not sex. Both men and women of any age can be raped. Find out what you can do and how to take care of yourself after a rape.
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Everybody gets stressed from time to time. This article for kids has some tips for you to try the next time you’re stressed.
Sometimes after experiencing a traumatic event, a person has a strong and lingering reaction known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Getting treatment and support can make all the difference.
Getting help with emotions or stress is the same as getting help with a medical problem like asthma or diabetes. This article explains how therapy works and how it can help with problems.
Visit our stress and coping center for advice on how to handle stress, including different stressful situations.
It’s normal for children to feel afraid at times. Parents can help kids feel safe and learn to feel at ease.
How well we get through a stressful situation depends a lot on us. It’s how we deal with that makes all the difference. Here are some ways to understand and manage stress.
Being a kid doesn’t always mean being carefree – even the youngest tots worry. Find out what stresses kids out and how to help them cope.
About half of people who have been raped know the person who attacked them. This article explains what date rape is, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you’ve been raped.
What’s it like to go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist? Find out in this article for kids.
When a teen commits suicide, everyone is affected. The reasons behind a suicide or attempted suicide can be complex, but often there are warning signs.
Have you ever been afraid? Everyone gets scared sometimes. Find out more about fear in this article for kids.
Stress happens when you are worried or uncomfortable about something. You may feel angry, frustrated, scared, or afraid. Our article for kids will help you manage stress.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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