Hollywood has created a misleading popular image of PTSD – one that deeply mischaracterizes what sufferers go through and what PTSD looks like to others.
All in all, nearly 8% of Americans will experience PTSD. The majority of those pose no threat to those around them, but they do face profound daily challenges.
Can teens and even younger adolescents have PTSD? The answer is yes.
How Does PTSD Develop?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder arises when someone faces a life-threatening situation that they cannot process emotionally. Service members develop PTSD at higher rates than many other populations, but they are not the only ones who might struggle with it.
PTSD emerges frequently for some other professions, including police officers and first-responders who navigate crisis situations. It also happens to disaster victims such as those affected by a fire, earthquake, tornado, or terror attack.
Just as importantly, it can develop in young people who face overwhelming events.
Research has suggested that feelings of helplessness during a crisis make PTSD much more likely. A sense that events are beyond the sufferer’s control amplifies the pain and fear of the experience and makes trauma harder to cope with.
Unfortunately, this puts young people at great risk.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Like many other mental health conditions, PTSD is diagnosed when certain symptoms have been present for at least a month. Not all potential symptoms need to be found.
Those symptoms include:
- Flashbacks: Intense hallucinations involving a past event which may occur suddenly.
- Avoidance: Avoidance of things, situations, or people that cause memories of the event.
- Hyperarousal: Heightened tension and anxiety which may present as sudden outbursts.
A number of other symptoms occur in the usual course of PTSD. These include nightmares, depression, and emotional numbness. Anxiety and depression may co-occur.
All of these can make it difficult to sustain healthy relationships with others. In adolescents and teens, they can also create a profound sense of alienation and "brokenness."