Many people hear the term post-traumatic stress disorder and think of soldiers in war or perhaps emergency response personnel who have witnessed terrible things throughout their careers. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also commonly linked to traumatic events or experiences one is a witness to or a victim of. For example, a teen can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing traumatic events in their community, witnessing a traumatic event involving a loved one, being the victim of a traumatic event such as assault, or being involved in an accident where a friend or loved one loses their life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that impacts everyone differently. It is believed that approximately five percent of teenagers between the ages of thirteen and eighteen will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. In most cases, the more severe the trauma, the more likely the teen will be affected by the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trauma Sources Explained
The concept of trauma can be difficult to wrap one’s head around. “trauma” can imply many different things and means different things to different people; however, there are several common examples of trauma that often lead to post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in teens and adults. Some of the most common examples include the following.
Teens who are the victims of abuse, including physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, frequently experience symptoms related to trauma disorders. In addition, if they are the witness to the ongoing abuse in any of the above categories (especially if their loved one, such as a parent or sibling, is the victim), trauma symptoms could develop.
Illness or Injury
Being diagnosed with a severe illness or experiencing a significant injury can produce sufficient anxiety to result in trauma symptoms. In addition, witnessing or being involved in a severe accident such as a car accident is also a common root cause of post-traumatic stress disorder. Another factor in the same category is undergoing major surgery. Surgical procedures can be stressful and very emotionally overwhelming. Even if the surgery is successful, trauma is still a possibility.
Violence and Natural Disasters
Unfortunately, community violence is a growing concern across America today. Violent events that occur within a teen’s community, such as at school or a public event, result in significant fear and anxiety. Witnessing these events is one thing but being present for or involved as they occur is something entirely different. Both situations can result in significant post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms for teens that, without comprehensive treatment at a teen-focused treatment facility such as Beachside, can last well into adulthood. Additionally, natural disasters such as tornados and floods can produce trauma in children and teens.
Symptoms of Trauma in Teens
If your teen is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, you may likely notice several symptoms that likely have a detrimental impact on their day-to-day routine. Research into post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects adolescents and teenagers have been extensive over the years and continues as the mental health community tries to understand better the differences between PTSD in adults and younger members of the population.
The below symptoms indicate that your teen likely needs help to manage their PTSD symptoms. They are used for diagnostic purposes as indicated by the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and as a guideline to help you better understand your teen’s emotions and behaviors after experiencing or witnessing severe trauma.
A widespread symptom of PTSD in adolescents and teens is re-experiencing. Put simply; re-experiencing is reliving the traumatic event. This may occur in various ways, including nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive memories. It is important to remember that if your teen does not specifically remember the initial trauma or does not experience symptoms related to re-experiencing, it does not mean they did not experience trauma. The characteristic or type of trauma, as well as the frequency of the trauma, will often indicate whether or not the individual will remember or re-experience the event. In addition, the age of the individual when the trauma occurred will also play a significant role in whether he or she is capable of remembering the event.
A teen who has experienced a traumatic event will often make attempts to avoid stimuli that remind them of their trauma. They will generally go to extreme lengths to avoid anything that may remind them of their trauma. This can include people (including family and loved ones), places, or conversations that have any connection or relationship to their trauma.
If the trauma involved a physical injury of any kind, it is not uncommon for physical pain to occur immediately following the traumatic event. However, even if the trauma did not involve physical contact, some symptoms of PTSD can express themselves in the way of personal pain.
For example, hypervigilance (described below) which alters your teen’s sleep patterns, and increased stress can significantly influence your teen’s overall health and well-being. Symptoms such as stomach aches, muscle tension, back pain, and other body aches are frequently reported among individuals struggling with PTSD. Also, co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety can bring about additional physical symptoms and concerns.
Hypervigilance is a common symptom in teens struggling with PTSD. It is characterized by an elevated perception of sensory activity, including an increased startle response. Heightened anxieties lead your teen to feel the need to check their surroundings consistently for potential threats. Hypervigilance associated with PTSD occurs as a result of changes within the brain directly related to trauma. Specifically, the amygdala becomes hyperactive during the event and remains so long after the event has ended. Hypervigilance is best described as a feeling of being on guard or on edge. This symptom can also significantly impact one sleep cycle and limit their ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, as even the slightest noise could startle one awake.
Depression is also connected with changes to the brain directly related to the traumatic event. The areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, and behavior become less active. Consequently, your teen may experience reduced positive emotions increase social’s isolation, and irritability. These specific changes to the brain are a significant contributing factor as to why many teens diagnosed with PTSD are also diagnosed with a co-occurring major depressive disorder.
Many people with PTSD are concerned about how they may react or behave in front of other people. Concerns about reacting strangely to everyday occurrences or becoming easily angry or agitated result in the desire to detach or distance themselves from others, including family and loved ones. Although a conscious decision, this often leads to increased mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety, making a recovery from PTSD more challenging as your teen feels they have no one to turn to in their struggle.
Insomnia and Sleeping Difficulties
As mentioned above, changes to sleeping patterns are a very common symptom of PTSD. There are many reasons for this, and insomnia or the inability to sleep often occurs regardless of age. In some cases, consistent worrying about the event that caused trauma makes it difficult to clear the mind and drift off to sleep or remain asleep. Also, your teen may have difficulties wanting to fall asleep as they know the nightmares that accompany PTSD occur soon after. Depending on your teen’s particular situation, a treatment provider here at Beachside can suggest various ways to help reduce the instances of sleep loss, thereby helping to increase your team’s overall health and well-being as they work towards their recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Unusual Mood Swings
A teen with PTSD may experience increased instances of irritability and anger. Often, these happen for unexpected reasons and at unpredictable intervals. If your teen struggled to regulate their mood before a traumatic event, the degree and severity of their mood swings might be noticeably different. These increased and more overwhelming changes in mood and behavior can impact your teen’s relationships at home, school, and elsewhere.
Many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder look similar in adults and teens; however, a negative outlook is specifically associated more often with younger people. Your teen’s negative outlook is often a result of a persistent (and distorted) view that the world they live in is a dangerous place. Unfortunately, teens who have experienced a traumatic event often have a negative view of themselves as well. This leads many to believe they are at fault for or responsible for the traumatic event and the resulting effects of the event.
Turning to Drugs or Alcohol to Dull Symptoms
Sometimes teens struggling with PTSD will turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate. This is an urgent indicator that professional treatment at a teen-focused treatment center like Beachside is vital to your teen’s physical and mental health. Excessive use of drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and dull the symptoms of PTSD only exacerbates feelings of depression and other dangerous behaviors and actions that can lead to an increased risk of teen suicide or other risky behaviors.
Symptoms of teen PTSD can be overwhelming and highly challenging for your teen (and their family) to cope with. Without treatment, these debilitating symptoms can potentially impact your teen’s education, social, developmental, occupational, and physical functioning. In other words, symptoms of PTSD can affect and touch every aspect of your teen’s life today and far into the future. However, post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable, and the symptoms are effectively managed with comprehensive treatment and therapy at Beachside. If you believe your teen may have experienced trauma or are concerned about symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder, reach out to the admissions team at Beachside Teen Treatment Center in Malibu today.