Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that often follows a terrifying physical or emotional event - causing the person who survived the event to have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories, or flashbacks, of the ordeal. Persons with PTSD often feel chronically, emotionally numb. PTSD in children usually becomes a chronic disorder.
The event(s) that triggers PTSD may be:
A child's risk for developing PTSD is often affected by the child's proximity and relationship to the trauma, the severity of the trauma, the duration of the traumatic event, the recurrence of the traumatic event, the resiliency of the child, the coping skills of the child, and the support resources available to the child from the family and community following the event(s).
The following are some examples of catastrophic, life-threatening events that may cause PTSD if experienced or witnessed as a child or adolescent:
It is estimated that over 5 million children are exposed to some form of trauma each year in the US. According to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, of those children and adolescents who have experienced trauma, three percent to 15 percent of girls and one percent to 6 percent of boys could be diagnosed with PTSD.
The following are the most common symptoms of PTSD. However, each child may experience signs differently.
Children and adolescents with PTSD experience extreme emotional, mental, and physical distress when exposed to situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Some may repeatedly relive the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day and may also experience any, or all, of the following:
Not every child or adolescent who experiences a trauma develops PTSD. PTSD is diagnosed only if symptoms persist for more than one month and are adversely affecting the child's life and level of functioning. In those who do have PTSD, symptoms usually begin within three months following the trauma, but can also start months or years later.
PTSD can occur at any age, including childhood, and may be accompanied by:
The length of the condition varies. Some people recover within six months, others have symptoms that last much longer.
A child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses PTSD in children or adolescents following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. Parents who note symptoms of PTSD in their child or teen can help by seeking an evaluation early. Early treatment can decrease future problems.
Specific treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder will be determined by your child's physician based on:
PTSD can be treated. Early detection and intervention is very important and can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the child's normal growth and development and improve the quality of life experienced by children or adolescents with PTSD. Treatment should always be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the child and family. Treatment recommendations may include cognitive behavioral therapy for the child. The focus of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help the child or adolescent learn skills to manage their anxiety and to help him/her master the situation(s) that contributed to their PTSD. Some children may also benefit from treatment with antidepressant or antianxiety medication to help them feel calmer. The child or adolescent's recovery from PTSD is highly variable and dependent on the child or adolescent's internal strengths, coping skills and resiliency (ability to "bounce back"). Recovery is also influenced by the support available within the family environment. Parents play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.
Preventive measures to reduce the incidence or lessen the chance of traumatic experiences in children include, but are not limited to, the following: