Does My Teen Have PTSD?

PTSD is the acronym for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Beginning in 2010, Congress named June 27th as PTSD Awareness Day. What’s more, a Senate resolution designated the entire month of June as National PTSD Awareness Month. All of this attention on PTSD is aimed at fostering a greater understanding of this mental condition, how to recognize its symptoms and how to obtain help for sufferers.

What Exactly is PTSD?

Almost everyone will have painful memories after experiencing a traumatic event. For most people, these memories will gradually become less painful over time. However, for others ‘time does not heal all wounds’ as the saying goes. The memories, thoughts, and feelings connected to the traumatic event don’t go away. If these reactions end up disrupting the individual’s everyday life, then PTSD is probably present.

Why Would a Teen Develop PTSD?

Everyone has heard about veterans suffering from PTSD. However, most people don’t know that PTSD can also afflict teens. An NPR program stated that, according to the National Survey of Adolescents, approximately 4% of teenage boys and 6% of teenage girls meet the clinical definition of PTSD. A teen may develop PTSD as a result of being directly involved in or witnessing a serious traumatic event such as:

  • A car accident.
  • A natural disaster (earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire).
  • A violent crime (kidnapping; physical assault; assault or murder of a parent, loved one, or close friend).
  • The suicide of a family member or friend.
  • Physical or sexual abuse.
  • Major surgery and/or extensive hospitalization – e.g., bone marrow transplant, severe burns.

An Example of a Teen with PTSD

Zach is a fourteen-year-old boy who had lots of friends. However, he began to be reluctant to go to school, stayed home after school, and dropped the activities that he loved like soccer and karate lessons. Moreover, he would call his mom many times whenever she left the house.

  • Zach’s Trauma: All of Zach’s problems arose after a trauma he experienced. While driving to the mall with his mom, a car ran a red light and hit the side of their car which spun around several times and hit a tree. Luckily, neither Zach nor his mom was injured, but the other driver suffered a severe head wound. Zach could not get thoughts of the accident and the image of the injured man with blood trickling down his face out of his head. He also has nightmares about car crashes.
  • Zach is Now Terrified of Cars: Zach is scared of being in a car and worries about being hit by one when going outside. When he does leave the house, he wants his mom to accompany him, and becomes extremely anxious when she is out of his sight. He reacts nervously when he hears the sound of a car horn or if he spots a news article about a car accident.

What Can I do to Help my Teen with PTSD?

If your teen has experienced a traumatic event, your first instinct might be to give them time and space alone to deal with what happened. However, this might be misinterpreted you don’t care or even that you are blaming your teen for their reactions to the traumatic event. Here are some helpful suggestions on what can help.

  • Provide support – The most important thing you can do is provide lots of love, support, and acceptance of your teen’s difficulties.
  • Encourage talk – Try to get your teen to talk to you about their feelings and explain that anxiety with respect to a traumatic event is a normal response.
  • Give reassurance – If your teen is experiencing scary symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, or vivid memories of the trauma, reassure your teen that they are not going crazy.
  • Encourage return to daily routines – Do your best to get your teen to go back to school within a few days of the traumatic event (if possible) and to resume their usual habits. This includes getting up and going to bed at their regular times, and participating in their usual school or community activities.
  • Help them face their fears – It doesn’t help to be overprotective. For example, if your teen has been in a car accident, they might refuse to get into a car. However, this fear of cars will not disappear on its own. It could even get worse over time if you don’t gradually encourage them to get back in a car. Be generous with praise after each attempt to overcome the fear.

Where Can I Get Help for my Teen’s PTSD in Arizona?

In spite of your best efforts to manage your teen’s PTSD, you may feel totally overwhelmed and need the help of experts. Doorways is here to give you all the help and advice you need. Our counselors are trained to deal with all kinds of anxiety disorders including PTSD. An initial consultation with us is absolutely free, so make an appointment today.


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