PTSD Treatment for Teens and Children

Caring Treatment for Teens with PTSD

PTSD Treatment Center for Teenagers

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can affect individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. While commonly associated with adults, PTSD can also significantly impact children and teenagers in the United States. The prevalence of PTSD among children and teenagers is a concerning issue, necessitating a closer look at its extent and the potential consequences it may have on their lives.

Terrifying events are difficult for a child to understand what has happened or how to bounce back afterward. When young people have trouble coping with a traumatic event, they are at risk for developing a mental health condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD can leads to maladaptive behaviors that must be addressed in a safe, residential treatment setting like the Elk River Treatment Program.

Children or teens with PTSD might have nightmares about the event or relive the trauma over and over in their memories. Suddenly they’re avoiding people and places that remind them of the event, making everyday life scary and challenging.

An adverse childhood experience (ACE), might include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, accidents, natural disasters, school shootings, substance use in the home or witnessing violent events at home.

Frequency of PTSD in Children and Teens

Estimating the exact prevalence of PTSD among children in the United States is challenging due to various factors including underreporting, variations in trauma exposure, and differences in diagnostic criteria. However, studies suggest that a significant number of children in the U.S. experience traumatic events that can potentially lead to the development of PTSD.

According to the National Survey of Children's Health, approximately 15.6 million children in the U.S. (21.4% of all children) have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE).

Furthermore, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in a given year, an estimated 3.7% of U.S. children aged 3-17 years (around 2.8 million children) have been diagnosed with PTSD. This figure highlights the prevalence of PTSD among children, underlining the need for appropriate recognition, intervention, and support.

Consequences and Implications

PTSD can have lasting and severe consequences for children, impacting their overall well-being and development. Untreated PTSD can hinder academic performance, social interactions, and familial relationships. It may also contribute to the development of other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, in later years.

Addressing PTSD in children is crucial not only for their immediate recovery but also for preventing long-term adverse outcomes. Early intervention and appropriate mental health support can significantly alleviate the symptoms of PTSD and promote healthy coping mechanisms, resilience, and overall recovery.

PTSD Symptoms for Children and Teens

PTSD in children and teens can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms may differ from those seen in adults. The symptoms of PTSD in children and teens can be categorized into three main clusters:

Re-experiencing Symptoms:

  • Flashbacks or intrusive, distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent nightmares related to the trauma
  • Emotional or physiological distress in response to reminders of the trauma

Avoidance and Numbing Symptoms:

  • Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or conversations related to the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of people, places, or activities that remind the child or teen of the trauma
  • Inability to recall important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb or detached from others
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

Hyperarousal Symptoms (caused by overactive fight-or-flight stress responses that keep the body and mind on high alert):

  • Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
  • Sleep disturbances, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, nightmares, or night sweats
  • Hypervigilance or an exaggerated startle response
  • Excessive alertness and being easily startled

It's important to note that the symptoms of PTSD may vary based on the age and developmental stage of the child or teen. Younger children may express their distress through play that re-enacts aspects of the traumatic event, while older children and teens may display symptoms similar to those seen in adults.

Treatment for PTSD in Children and Teens

Sometimes trauma symptoms in children will disappear after a few months. However, it’s important to consult with a mental health professional for an assessment and to learn about treatment options in outpatient and residential settings. These might include:

Play therapy – Young children with PTSD can benefit from play therapy techniques, especially when they are unable to comprehend or verbalize their thoughts about the trauma. Games, art, and other techniques can be used to help a child build resilience and process the trauma through play.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – There is a trauma-focused style of this common therapy treatment that is frequently used in working with children and teens with PTSD. This type of therapy helps correct irrational or incorrect thoughts a young person might have about the event, and it can also help them develop skills for reducing anxiety and stress.

Eye moment desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – This therapy uses guided eye movement techniques that help a young person process their memories about the event and their thoughts and emotions associated with the trauma.

Medication – Many medications have proven to decrease symptoms associated with the disorder. Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants have proven effective, specifically when administered in conjunction with therapy.

Specialized treatment – Sometimes PTSD symptoms can cause additional problems in children and teens, such as troubling sexual behavior, self-harm, drug and alcohol use, and other behavioral issues. Addressing these challenges may require outpatient treatment or specialized residential treatment.

If you’re not sure where to start, think about how you can make your child or teen feel safe today. Listen to their worries and frustrations, and don’t minimize or dismiss their concerns. Above all, don’t feel like you and your child have to carry the weight of trauma alone. What allies can you recruit at their school, in your community, and on a professional level to help them live their best life? PTSD can be treated, and your son or daughter can move past trauma and towards a full and healthy life.