As parents, you can’t control every life experience your child has. It is possible that they will witness or live through something that sticks with them in a way that negatively affects their mental health. At that point, it is your responsibility to support them in every way possible while getting them the treatment they need to recover from their traumatic experience.
As many as forty-three percent of children will experience at least one trauma in their lifetime and of these children, between one and fifteen percent will develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. The type of trauma experienced or witnessed can increase their risk of developing this disorder. By educating yourself and becoming aware of the symptoms and treatment options, you can effectively support your child if they ever experience trauma and begin to develop PTSD.
In short, PTSD is when a survivor of a traumatic situation continues to relive the event long after it has ended. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the symptoms of PTSD are placed in one of four categories and can vary in severity based on the trauma witnessed or experienced. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, your child must experience symptoms for longer than one month and must be causing significant disruption to their daily functioning. Symptoms will often occur alongside other physical and mental health issues like depression, substance use or memory loss.
This includes repetitive thoughts, involuntary memories, distressing dreams or flashbacks. These flashbacks can feel as if your child is physically at the scene for their trauma, reliving their experience.
This is when they are actively avoiding people, places, situations or activities that would trigger traumatic thoughts or feelings. They are likely to keep quiet and restrain from talking about it with others.
These symptoms make it difficult for your child to remember certain aspects of the traumatic event. Negative thoughts can lead to distorted beliefs which can result in your child wrongfully blaming themselves or others for the traumatic situation. This domino effect can introduce feelings of fear, horror, guilt, disinterest in activities, detachment from others or the inability to have positive emotions.
This is when your child becomes irritable, behaves recklessly, is self-destructive, paranoid, easily startled, has trouble sleeping, can’t concentrate and begins to have angry outbursts.
Post traumatic stress disorder can be a result of a variety of traumatic events. These can include but are not limited to the death of a loved one, natural disaster, terrorist act, sexual assault, any type of violence or serious injury. It is likely that your child will not develop symptoms for months or years after the event has occurred. However, once symptoms arise and persist, it is important to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor. This way, you can address the symptoms and begin an effective course of treatment.
Recovery will look different for everyone based on their trauma and symptoms. Nurturing current friendships and spending time with supportive loved ones can be extremely beneficial in improving your child’s mental health during their PTSD recovery. Like most mental health disorders, PTSD symptoms can be reduced with consistent exercise and meditation. Doctors can also prescribe medications like antidepressants to help treat their anxiety or depression developed from the traumatic event. Your child can also try prolonged exposure therapy which can be an effective treatment plan as it slowly exposes them to certain aspects of their trauma. They are able to address their past issues in a safe, controlled environment.
If your child has experienced a potentially traumatic event, it is crucial that you keep an eye out for any symptoms of PTSD that last longer than a month. The sooner your child is diagnosed, the sooner you can begin treating their symptoms and help them continue to live a healthy, happy life.
If your child has been diagnosed with PTSD and is in need of therapy, visit Talkspace, an online platform that connects patients to licensed therapists virtually. For additional recommended mental health resources, check out our Helpful Hotlines.