Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is caused by experiencing a deeply disturbing event that is threatening to one’s own or another’s physical or emotional safety. PTSD as a diagnosis was developed in response to traumatic symptoms of war veterans and it was once thought that children could not develop PTSD; however, we now know that that assumption was wrong.

What To Look For:

PTSD greatly affects a child or teen’s sense of physical and emotional safety and as a result they view their world with significant and persistent fear. Symptoms include:

  • Generalized fear and anxiety
  • Separation anxiety / clinginess to parents
  • Avoidance of aspects (sights, sounds, smells, places) related to the trauma
  • Sleep disturbance and nightmares
  • Reptitive play depicting aspects related to the trauma
  • Regression (i.e. the loss of a previously acquired skill such as toilet training)
  • Feeling constantly alert and being easily startled
  • Physical complaints
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Emotional numbness or not caring
  • Guilt (i.e. feeling responsible for the event)
  • Diminished interest in pleasurable activities

Possible Causes:

PTSD symptoms can occur as a result of either directly witnessing or being deeply personally impacted by a traumatic event such as:

  • Natural disasters such as floods
  • Man-made disasters such as plane crashes
  • School shootings or even bullying
  • Automobile accidents
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse or rape
  • Neglect
  • Being exposed to domestic violence
  • Parental or peer death or suicide
  • Community violence
  • Being the victim of robbery or other assaults
  • Life threatening illness and associated medical treatments

Risk Factors:

Not everyone exposed to a traumatic event develops PTSD. In fact, even when exposed to the same event, some individuals will develop symptoms and others will not. Response to trauma are influenced by the following:

  • Severity of the trauma
  • Physical proximity to the trauma
  • The number of experienced traumatic events
  • Individual attributes such as coping skills
  • Age: the younger the child, the more likely symptoms are to develop due to a lack of verbal skills and cognitive understanding
  • Gender: girls are affected at a higher rate

Treatment Options:

For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must be present for more than one month after the event; however, that does not mean that treatment should wait. Of paramount importance is to seek immediate assistance. Although PTSD often has long-standing affects, it is treatable.

  • Psychotropic Medication to decrease symptoms
  • Individual Therapy to identify, express, and process feelings and to learn anxiety-reducing strategies thru talk, play, and art
  • Psycho-Education to create a supportive, understanding, and nurturing environment
  • Family Psychotherapy to help additional family members that may themselves be experiencing symptoms
  • Community Support or Group Therapy to process feelings with others who experienced the same or similar trauma
  • -School Services to minimize the negative affects of symptoms on academic progress

How You Can Help:

  • Encourage your child or teen to label and express their feelings
  • Support, understand, and praise your child without criticizing symptoms, particularly regressive behaviors
  • As much as possible maintain structure and routines as before the incident
  • Allow you child to make choices, even simple ones, to regain a sense of control
  • Seek help for yourself or other family members that may also have been exposed to the trauma

Contact AFG Guidance Center at (847) 853-0234 for more information on post traumatic stress disorder.

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