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Children and PTSD Children and PTSD
Post traumatic stress disorder known at PTSD is a mental health condition that develops as a result of a traumatic physical or emotional experience.... Children and PTSD

by Kimberly Allen R. N.

Post traumatic stress disorder known at PTSD is a mental health condition that develops as a result of a traumatic physical or emotional experience.  Symptoms of PTSD can manifest anytime from one month to years after experiencing the traumatic event.  PTSD was originally recognized in soldiers returning from war and has gone by other names like ‘shell shock’ in the past.

Children can suffer from PTSD for everything from serious abuse to bullying and witnessing traumatic events.

For years PTSD was considered an illness that affected adults almost exclusively, however in recent years studies have shown that children and teens also can suffer from PTSD.  It is believed that in the US alone there are more than 3 million children with PTSD.  Unfortunately, the two most common causes of PTSD in children and teens are physical and/or sexual abuse. Though they are the most common, there are other events that can lead to PTSD in children and teens including witnessing domestic violence or other violent crime, being in an auto accident and even bullying can lead to the development of PTSD.  Researchers have also discovered a few other little known facts about PTSD in children and teens, for example girls are more likely to develop PTSD than boys and if the trauma involves family the child is at even greater risk for developing PTSD.

When the child perceives an event as life threatening or responds to the event with intense overwhelming fear and helplessness they will most likely develop PTSD.  Not all children will develop PTSD, however there are certain factors that have been identifies that can affect the chances a child will develop PTSD:

1.  How close was the child to the traumatic event?  Did the child witness the event or it’s aftermath?
2.  How close is the child to the people involved?  Was it family or close friends?
3.  How severe was the trauma?
4.  How long did the traumatic event last or was it ongoing?

The symptoms of PTSD vary from child to child depending on the age of the child and the circumstances of the trauma.  The problem with many of the symptoms of PTSD si they can easilt be mistaken by adults close to the child as ‘moody behavior’ or ‘just being a teenager’ especially if the adult is unaware that the child has or is experiencing trauma, such as severe bullying.  It’s important to view the symptoms in their context, for example is the behavior new, or in response to certain events.  A child may suddenly demonstrate intense anxiety if separated from family members or when around strangers.  If a child is suddenly experiencing nightmares or starts wetting the bed chances are he/she is reliving a traumatic event.  Adolescents may develop self-abusive and self- destructive behaviors like cutting or alcohol and drug abuse.  Adolescents with PTSD often develop other mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or OCD.

The treatment for PTSD is complex, individualized and long term.  Psychotherapy or “talk therapy”  and if necessary medication are the standard treatment and have shown great success in helping children with PTSD to live a normal life.  There are several factors that can affect the success of the treatment plan including the coping skills of the child and family, the mental health history of the childs family and how much support the child receives at home, school and in the community.

The rise in incidence of PTSD in children and adolescents has many mental health practitioners concedrned, as the violence in society increases so will the incidence of PTSD affecting children and teens.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at