Is your teen experiencing PTSD? What are the red flags? If you’re a parent looking to learn about teen PTSD, then this guide is for you!
by Priscille B. Fatuma | Priscille B. Fatuma is a writer, content creator, freelance proofreader, and mental health enthusiast. You can connect with her on Twitter @PriscyFat.
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When a teen goes through an event that could cause them to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is not because they are weak or broken. It’s because it’s a natural result of what they went through, and how they reacted to it. While PTSD doesn’t happen to everyone who experiences something horrific and intense, the chances are much greater for those who have a history of trauma, have a history of other mental health issues, or are exposed to extreme stress on a regular basis.
Most people associate PTSD with adults and soldiers. But teenagers and children can develop the condition, too. If you have children or teens in your life who are struggling with their emotions, or if you’re concerned about their well-being, it’s important to understand what PTSD is. Keep reading to learn more about the causes of PTSD in teenagers, red flags that your teen has PTSD, as well as how you can help them recover.
What is PTSD?
According to Psychology Today, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops in response to experiencing or witnessing a distressing event involving the threat of death or extreme bodily harm. Examples of traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include sexual assault, physical violence, and military combat. PTSD can also occur in the wake of a motor vehicle accident, a natural disaster, a medical emergency, or any sudden, disruptive incident.
What causes PTSD in teens?
Although not every traumatic event will lead to PTSD, it is important to know that school or neighborhood violence, unexpected or forcible loss of a parent, arrests or evictions, being the subject of hate, or getting threats of harm are some of the stressful events that have been reported to induce PTSD in teenagers. Traumatic grief is another significant factor to consider.
What are red flags a teen is having PTSD?
Sleep troubles, isolation or avoidance of people or things they typically like, tending not to go out in public, panic attacks, excessive anxiety, suicide ideas or gestures, unusual reactivity, risky conduct, and drug or alcohol addiction are all known red flags that signify Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
How to help if you notice these red flags?
Chris Brown, a licensed independent clinical social worker specializing in PTSD therapy also known as @UnshakenMe on Twitter, said it’s important to know that other things can cause the same warning signs at PTSD. A past trauma is the key element in all PTSD, so it’s best to contact a PTSD therapist if you have any suspicions. They can help rule out or treat PTSD. He also added that you should:
- Normalize mental health and therapy by keeping an open mind and staying calm when you discuss it with them
- Establish and maintain their trust throughout the therapy process.
- Do not pry, but be available to talk and show them that you care
- Be supportive and engaged by asking questions and learning about their triggers
- If they share what they are learning in therapy, look for opportunities to support their learning and reinforce the positive coping skills they’ll learn from a skilled therapist. (Personal communication, May 7, 2022)
What if the teen doesn’t open up?
Be patient and don’t take it personally. If they haven’t opened up, it probably means they haven’t figured out how to confront the issue within themselves either. If you follow the advice above, they will likely open up when they are ready. (Brown, 2022)
Where to find professional help?
- Rogers Behavioral Health
Rogers is a not-for-profit provider of mental health and addiction therapy that was founded in 1907 in Wisconsin and today has facilities in nine states throughout the U.S. In addition to providing free screening for PTSD and a website filled with educational material to help you learn quick facts about PTSD, Rogers uses therapy techniques that have been found in studies to be the most successful in reducing PTSD symptoms. Make sure to check PTSD Treatment & Trauma Recovery – Rogers Behavioral Health (rogersbh.org) to find the right approach to your child or teen’s issue.
- The EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) “Find an EMDR Therapist” Directory
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment is a well-studied, successful psychotherapy procedure that has been shown to assist people in recovering from trauma and other stressful life situations, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders. The new EMDRIA “Find an EMDR Therapist Directory” is a current resource for finding EMDRIA members in your region that provide EMDR treatment. You can search for an EMDR therapist by location, name, and other parameters in the directory.
It is important to note, not everyone who has gone through a traumatic experience will develop PTSD. If you suspect your teen has trouble coping with their emotions, chances are they could be experiencing PTSD. If you believe your teen is experiencing PTSD, have them speak with a trauma therapist as they can help prevent or treat PTSD.
- “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | Psychology Today.” Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com, 1 May 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/basics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder.
- “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (for Teens) – Nemours KidsHealth.” Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (for Teens) – Nemours KidsHealth, kidshealth.org, 1 Aug. 2021, https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/ptsd.html#:~:text=Hearing%20that%20someone%20close%20died%20by%20violence%20or%20suicide%20can%20be%20a%20trauma%20too.%20The%20grief%20can%20be%20intense%20with%20this%20type%20of%20loss.%20It%20is%20called%20traumatic%20grief.
- Fatuma, Priscille B. “Juvenile Suicide Due to Bullying.” Medium, priscillebfatumawriter.medium.com, 21 Feb. 2022, https://priscillebfatumawriter.medium.com/juvenile-suicide-due-to-bullying-1d52e2ba1dc9.
- “How to help” advice section: C. Brown, personal communication, May 7, 2022.
- “Trauma & PTSD Facts | Rogers Behavioral Health.” Rogers Behavioral Health, rogersbh.org, https://rogersbh.org/trauma-and-ptsd-facts. Accessed 10 May 2022.
- “Find an EMDR Therapist – EMDR International Association.” EMDR International Association, http://www.emdria.org, 15 Sept. 2021, https://www.emdria.org/find-an-emdr-therapist/.