Sadly, many teens are exposed to events that can be emotionally traumatic. Experiencing such events can make teens vulnerable to Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What’s worse is that teens are already emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, which makes experiencing a traumatic event during adolescence a serious threat to a teen’s well being.
In one study, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed surveys from 6,483 teens and parents and found that 61% of teens (ages 13-17) had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event, such as those listed below, in their lifetime. And 19% of those teens experienced three or more traumatic events.
- Death in the family
- Witnessing a crime
- Death or suicide of a close friend
- Domestic violence
- Natural disaster
- Witnessing violence
- Chronic bullying
- Repeated abandonment
- Physical or sexual abuse
If a teen experiences one of the above events, he or she may develop one of two disorders – Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They are both anxiety disorders that develop after a teen experiences trauma. However, one difference between them is the length of time an individual experiences post-traumatic symptoms. If symptoms of anxiety and dissociation have been experienced for less than one month, it is considered ASD. If symptoms of anxiety and dissociation have been experienced for a month or longer, then the diagnosis is PTSD.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), PTSD is a mental illness experienced by someone who has experienced a traumatic event, and who is experiencing symptoms of anxiety as a result. The DSM outlines symptoms that include flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. An adolescent might also exhibit symptoms of avoidance, such as staying away from certain places to avoid reliving the traumatic experience or forgetting the experience entirely. Symptoms of PTSD usually continue until a safe, therapeutic investigation of the traumatic event takes place and a teen is able to process and integrate the intense feelings associated with the trauma.
Without treatment, memory of the trauma can continue to invade a teen’s mind at unexpected times and cause waves of discomfort to flood through his or her consciousness. But that is only one of many symptoms:
- Feeling numb, detached, or emotionally unresponsive
- Forgetting important aspects of the traumatic event
- De-realization, a symptom in which the environment seems strange or unreal
- De-personalization, a symptom in which thoughts and feelings do not seem real
- Recurring images of the trauma
- Feelings of reliving the traumatic event
- Feelings high levels of stress when an object or person reminds you of the event
- Avoiding people, objects, and places that stimulate reliving the trauma
- Trouble sleeping
- Chronic tension
- Easily startled
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inability to sit still
Of the teens surveyed in the study mentioned above, 4.7 of them reported having the above symptoms and were identified as having PTSD. The study also found that recovery of PTSD became complicated if there were other co-existing mental illnesses, particularly bipolar disorder. Other traumatic events in a teen’s life and living in poverty were additional factors that made recovery from PTSD difficult.
Although psychotropic medication is often used as a means to treat PTSD, the more effective modality is almost always therapy. (This is not true in cases such as schizophrenia however.) In fact, it has been proven that medication alone is not a thorough treatment plan. Only when it is combined with therapy, does the treatment plan become particularly effective. The reason behind this is no doubt the necessary task of expression and finally releasing the thoughts and emotions that have been imprisoned as a result of trauma.
If a teen experiences a trauma, it’s essential to bring him or her to a mental health professional for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
Nauert, R. (July 30, 2013). Identifying Teens at Risk for PTSD. PsychCentral. Retrieved on June 11, 2014 from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/07/30/how-to-identify-teens-at-risk-for-ptsd/57756.html
By Robert Hunt
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