Teens who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have in some way been involved in or exposed to death, violence, or serious injury. They may have directly experienced a traumatic event or been a witness to a life-alerting situation. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is very common for teenagers to experience a traumatic event before they reach the age of 17 which if left untreated, can lead to PTSD. In fact, PTSD may be more commonly experienced by teenagers than it is adults who may experience the same or similar traumatic situations due to the immaturity and vulnerability of the undeveloped teenage brain.
PTSD is a mental disorder that is primarily triggered by a terrifying event. Unless a teen experiences or witnesses a life-changing event such as a school shooting, sexual abuse, accident, death of a loved one, war, or a natural disaster of some kind, it is highly unlikely that they will develop PTSD. Researchers at Columbia University have recognized that 75% of students who experience a school shooting will experience PTSD while 90% of those who are sexually assaulted will fall victim to PTSD.
As serious as the triggering event was and the terrifying feelings that it creates, treatment by trained and experienced medical professionals at a facility like Beachside Treatment Center can help your teen to overcome the symptoms of PTSD and to regain control of their life. Through a combination of medication and psychotherapy, teens will learn useful ways to cope with symptoms as they surface and to treat any other mental or physical conditions that have stemmed from PTSD. Teens do not have to suffer from the effects of the disorder at all, let alone, by themselves. There is support available to all teens and therapists and counselors are ready and willing to help.
Let’s first look at some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD and then we can dive into developing a plan for PTSD treatment. After a traumatic situation, a teen may experience extreme terror or fear, severe anxiety related to the situation, nightmares, distorted thoughts, and flashbacks. For example, if your teen has witnessed a shooting, they may be jumpy or terrified at the thought of going back to the scene or location. They may experience nightmares and severe anxiety when it comes time to go back to school if this is where it occurred, and they may even be terrified that the situation may occur again.
Signs that a teen may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder typically develop within the first month after a teen has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. However, in some cases, symptoms may lay dormant for months or even years, rearing their ugly heads when the teens are reminded in some way of the event that caused the feelings of stress in the first place. For example, the anniversary of a violent act or event can cause memories, emotions, and stress to come flooding back to them, causing symptoms to surface.
Symptoms of PTSD may last for a significant amount of time unless treated by trained medical professionals like those at Beachside Treatment Center and may be so debilitating that they render the teen incapable of functioning in everyday life.
Signs of PTSD:
- Extreme fear or terror
- Continuously replaying of the situation or event in their mind like a video on replay
- Avoidance of the subject, place or people that may bring back memories
- Emotionally numb
- Jumpy or easily frightened
- Heightened sensations of panic, anxiety, and nervousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Engaging in risky-behavior
- Poor school performance
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame about the event
Of course, many of these signs and symptoms may also resemble other mental health conditions or substance abuse. However, a trained, experienced mental health professional can help your teen to be properly diagnosed and treated accordingly.
Teens who have experienced a traumatic event are best treated in a facility like Beachside Treatment Center where they can receive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Experienced mental health professionals will evaluate your teen and determine the best course of action to help your teen to learn coping mechanisms to overcome their fears, anxieties, and to replace the loop of negative thoughts and emotions with positive, effective ones. They are encouraged to face their fears in a safe environment and to recognize thought patterns that prohibit them from moving beyond the emotions that are paralyzing them.
Most people, no matter their age, prefer to avoid thinking about or talking about a traumatic event if at all possible. The more that we attempt to avoid talking or thinking about something, the more that symptoms and signs will manifest themselves, causing deeper and more impactful residual challenges. It is because of this desire to circumvent a memory that many teens find themselves on edge, jumpy, and sleepless. Because conversation tends to stir up those emotions that we may be trying to suppress, this is exactly the reason that a very specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy is used with teens who have PTSD.
In many facilities, PTSD treatment includes trauma-focused therapy which is geared toward engaging a teen and discussing the situation and how it makes them feel. Trained mental health professionals gently encourage teens to express their feelings in an environment that is safe, supportive and caring. By talking through the event itself and the emotions that swirl around it, teens can better manage their fears and anxiety that may be consuming every moment of their day. The process of walking through the situation, no matter how painful, helps a teen’s mind to make sense of a senseless situation.
Another type of therapy that is commonly used to treat teens with PTSD is called EMDR or Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. While a teen engages in sharing their feelings and thoughts surrounding the traumatic event itself, they are encouraged to rapidly move their eyes back and forth. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, other proponents of EMDR believe that the rapid eye movement resembles REM sleep and provides a patient the ability to process negative or emotional memories in such a way as they are no longer paralyzing.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, another type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, is a critical factor in recovery from PTSD in that it brings together two opposing feelings . . . acceptance and change. Teens must learn to accept that the event or situation occurred while learning the coping skills to make necessary changes on the road to living a “normal” life.
If you suspect that your teen may be experiencing PTSD after a traumatic experience, it is important that you not only seek professional assistance for them but that you are prepared for what will occur during their treatment. In planning for PTSD treatment, you can help to alleviate some of the anxiety that your child may be feeling about the therapy or treatment itself.
When selecting a therapist or treatment center for your teen, it is critical that you are aware of some of the following questions to ask:
- What are their qualifications to treat children and teens who have witnessed or experienced a life-changing event?
- Can parents or caregivers participate in the cognitive behavioral therapy process to ensure that everyone involved is using the same strategies to best assist teens both during and after treatment?
- How involved will you and your teen be in determining the best treatment plan?
For many teens, the event itself was traumatic, life-changing and devastating. Now, they are faced with the emotions and negative thoughts that come with PTSD. By the very nature of being a teenager, they are certainly cognizant of how others view them and the stigma that may be associated with any type of mental health challenge. They may be wary of sharing their feelings with you or anyone for fear of being seen as weak or disturbed. What they do not realize is that by speaking up and advocating for themselves, they can get the help that they need and, in many cases, want but don’t know how to ask for.
Knowing your teen as you do, their reactions to emotions and the triggering event itself, you can begin to help your child through the healing process by being responsive and reassuring. By referring them to their doctor and developing a treatment plan, you may very well be saving their life.
- Be an active and present listener. Although they may not want to discuss their feelings or emotions, be sure to repeatedly assure them that you are available to listen whenever they do feel like talking about it.
- Assure your teen that the event is over and that they are completely safe.
- Try to keep up routines and be consistent with your conversations and interactions with your child.
- Encourage them to continue participating in the things that they enjoyed prior to experiencing the event or situation.
- Treating them with compassion and respect will encourage your teen to keep pushing forward toward returning to their everyday activities and a normal life.
During treatment, your teen will gain many useful tools and resources to support and guide them to overcome their symptoms and to help them function every day. Some of the activities that they will engage include:
- Creating a story to include the circumstances of the event, how it made them feel, and to deter any harmful thoughts or blame that they may be harboring
- Gradually exposing them to those things that they are afraid of
- Learning how to relax, manage worries and anxiety
- Understanding the specific type of event that they experienced including common reactions from other teens faced with similar situations
- Helping teens to gradually return to life and doing normal activities
So, why is PTSD dangerous to your teenager? Although it may seem that they are simply scared because of the tragic situation or they are overexaggerating their emotions, PTSD can, in fact, lead to very serious complications and behaviors if left untreated. Teens who are experiencing PTSD may slip into a deep depression, or other mental health disorder or feel such strong feelings of guilt and shame that they themselves engage in reckless, dangerous or suicidal behaviors. Unfortunately, it has been reported that several teenage survivors of recent school shootings have in fact taken their own lives due to the guilt of surviving the horrific event while others lost their lives. They may feel unworthy of living when their friends, who were just as deserving of life, were killed.
While you are planning for the care and treatment of your teenager, you may also be struggling with the effects of the event yourself. It is important that you practice self-care during this time and seek counseling and support from medical professionals if necessary. A PTSD diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming yet you can best support your teen if you have sought after counseling for yourself.
If you suspect that your teen is in need of therapy or guidance, contact your doctor for further evaluation. Planning is essential in the development of a treatment plan and trained professionals can give your teen the tools, resources and coping mechanisms to overcome their PTSD symptoms, return to their daily activities and lead a fulfilling life. The traumatic experience does not define them nor should it stop them from leading the life that they are meant to live.