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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder In Children : Symptoms & Treatment

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder In Children :  Symptoms & Treatment
  • Jan 09
  • Mental Health

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be described as a serious, chronic illness which can impact both children and adolescents alike. It’s an impeding and debilitating condition that follows a traumatic event leading the person exposed to that particular event to endure chronic, unwanted feelings of distress and frightening memories long after the event has elapsed. This event could have led to an exposure to a traumatic incident such as a possible serious injury or death to themselves or others. PTSD is said to occur immediately after the incident (in most cases) and the affected individual might feel emotions varying from overwhelming fear, severe anxiety to helplessness and intense nightmares. However, some children have reported having faced PTSD long after that event has passed – sometimes even after six months.

This feeling of emotional and physical distress can cause a serious impairment in the child’s daily activities and can affect their ability to function optimally. Further, affected children may become emotionally numb to their feelings and indifferent to various situations in general as a coping mechanism. That being said, it needs to be mentioned that not every child who suffers from a traumatic incident goes on to develop PTSD. Depending on how bad the trauma is or how deeply the child has been affected, the chances of developing PTSD increase accordingly.

Causes

There are several events that might go on to trigger a bout of PTSD in children. They are as below:

  • The occurrence of a natural disaster such as a such as a hurricane, flood, fire or earthquake
  • A traumatic incident that has occurred in the child’s life.
  • A traumatic incident that has impacted the lives of someone close to him or her.
  • A sudden or an unexpected demise of a family member, friend, or a loved one
  • Being involved in a serious accident/disaster or losing someone to such an event (such as car, airplane, bike, or train disasters)
  • Man-made tragedies such as terrorist attacks, shootouts, bombings etc.
  • Suffering from physical, emotional, and/or sexual trauma or abuse
  • Animal bites (such as dog bites)
  • Violent attacks of a personal nature including a kidnapping, robbery, rape, torture, or being held captive against their will etc.
  • Bullying
  • War or political violence
  • Undergoing a major surgery or suffering from a life-threatening illness
  • Something disturbing the child has witnessed.
  • Invasive medical procedures in the case of younger children (under the age of 6)
  • Neglect from their parents, friends, or loved ones

As per statistics released by the National Center for PTSD, it has been revealed that almost 100 percent of all children who have witnessed a murder or sexual assault of a parent has gone on to develop PTSD. In addition, 77 percent of children who have been injured or bear witness to a school shooting have gone on to develop PTSD. PTSD has also been noticed in 90 percent of children who have been sexually abused.

Symptoms

In case the child has recurrent memories of the traumatic event long after the event has passed and if the symptoms refuse to cease, they might be afflicted with PTSD. The symptoms can either start immediately after the trauma or even months or even years after. Moreover, every child may experience symptoms differently.

  • Disturbances while sleeping
  • Avoiding any thoughts or feelings associated with the trauma
  • Negative emotions such as anger, fear, horror, etc. that refuse to cease
  • Being depressed all the time
  • Having a hard time concentrating or completing day-to-day tasks
  • Being on guard and protective at all times
  • Getting startled with ease
  • Losing interest in things they used to enjoy
  • A general sense of detachment from everyone accompanied by a lack of empathy
  • Having trouble feeling affectionate for someone
  • Indulging in reckless and dangerous activities
  • Avoidance of certain places associated with the event
  • Feeling numb accompanied by a general lack of responsiveness
  • Constantly being in a state of denial or blaming themselves or others for the occurrence of that event
  • Being more aggressive, violent, and irritable than before
  • Bed wetting and sleepwalking
  • Feeling overly fatigued without a reasonable cause
  • Feelings of detachment and low self-esteem
  • Physical symptoms such as splitting headaches or stomach aches with no identifiable medical cause
  • Inability to develop trust in others
  • Unable to distinguish reality from thoughts or dreams
  • Re-enacting the trauma constantly for a period of hours to even days
  • Consciously avoiding certain situations that bring back horrid memories
  • Vivid flashbacks including seeing, experiencing, or hearing parts of the event that are not really occurring all over again
  • Difficulty concentrating in school
  • Being preoccupied with thoughts about dying at an early age
  • Acting younger than their age or being illogical

It needs to be pointed out that some of these symptoms can also indicate an entirely different mental health condition including depression or an anxiety disorder. A medical health professional will accurately be able to diagnose the condition after taking into account the symptoms and accordingly develop an appropriate treatment plan to cater to their needs.

Treatment

If left untreated, PTSD can wreak havoc in a child’s life while also severely impacting their future. Some of the long-term effects include social isolation, chronic depression, suicidal thoughts, lacking trust in others, gradual deterioration in physical as well as mental health, a feeling of low self-worth amongst others.

However, the good news is that PTSD can be treated and a plan will be devised by the concerned doctor for the child after taking account factors such as the child’s age and complete medical history, overall health, the extent of the child’s symptoms and the child’s tolerance for specific medications or therapies.

Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is regarded to be one of the most effective measures for treating PTSD. The main focus of this treatment is helping the child manage his anxiety levels and helping him come to terms with the situation that contributed to the PTSD. The child will also be encouraged to confront his fears rather than avoiding them. This therapy can either be on a one-to-one basis, with the involvement of the parent or in a group setting with fellow PTSD survivors.

In addition, there are several medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications that can help affected children feel calmer. Parents can also play a vital role in the treatment process by being supportive and by paying attention to their child’s feelings during this difficult phase.

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