8 Things Parents Need to Know About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

If your teen suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, get the help they need (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

June is PTSD Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Learn. Connect. Share.”.  People across the country will be working to raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by helping others learn more about the condition, connecting people to the help they need, and sharing their experiences to make a difference in someone else’s life.

One of the things we want to raise awareness about this month is that PTSD isn’t just for adults and it isn’t just for veterans.  It can and does happen to teenagers and those teens need parents who are able to identify the signs and willing to seek help and support.  To that end, here are the 8 things about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that every parent needs to know.

  1. It Can Make Teens Stop Doing Things They Love

One of the symptoms of PTSD is avoidance/numbing.   When someone with PTSD has this symptom, they will avoid people, locations, or situations that serve as a reminder of the traumatic event.  It can also include becoming emotionally detached and blocking memories.

  1. It Can Make Teens Panic

Another PTSD symptom called hyper-arousal can cause jumpiness and panic attacks.  Teens with this symptom may be easily startled or feel like something bad is always about to happen.  It can make teens feel on edge all the time and like they have to be on high alert at all times to protect themselves.

  1. It Can Cause Aches and Pains

PTSD can also cause less-specific symptoms including unexplained aches and pains, problems with sleep, and extreme moodiness.

  1. It Can Cause Depression

PTSD can be the cause of or co-exist with other mental health conditions.  Common coexisting conditions include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and substance abuse problems.  Getting all mental health conditions diagnosed and treated is crucial to overcoming PTSD.

  1. Shifting Focus Can Help

One way to manage and control PTSD symptoms is to use conscious choices to shift focus away from whatever is triggering the PTSD.  Helping teens learn to identify their triggers and then shift focus to healthy alternatives can be a powerful coping strategy.

  1. Being Thankful Can Help

Another way to shift attention away from the PTSD trigger and keep it from escalating is for teens to focus on finding things in their life that they are grateful or thankful for.  This simple shift can keep symptoms from escalating and provide time to seek support or other assistance if needed.

  1. Working Out Can Help

Physical activity can be a powerful tool in managing PTSD symptoms.  Activities like running and hiking or playing sports requires present awareness and focused attention on what it happening in the moment.  This can help keep PTSD thoughts and emotions at bay.

  1. Parents Can Help

One of the most powerful tools teenagers have in their battle to overcome PTSD is their parents.  By learning about the disorder, seeking the right treatment, participating in the process, and providing the support their teen needs, parents can help teens learn to manage their PTSD so that it doesn’t impact the rest of their lives.


Related Articles:

National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week

Anxiety Disorders

Here you can find a resourceful list on the topic of anxiety disorders (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Each year, more than 60 million Americans suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders including our teens and children. These devastating mental health conditions affect every area of a person’s life and when the person struggling with the condition is a teenager, it can affect everything from their social development to their prospects for the future. The goal of National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week, which runs from May 4-10, is to help those with the conditions and their family members to get the help and support they need to treat the conditions and mitigate the impact.

Unfortunately, our adolescents are not immune from these pervasive mental health disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 8% of teenagers suffer from an anxiety disorder and about 11% suffer from a depressive disorder but the majority of teens in both groups never receive treatment. With such devastating, potentially long term impacts, we need to work harder to ensure that our teens are getting the help and support they need to learn to manage these disorders.

Fear and sadness are normal human responses that have helped us throughout human history to avoid danger and deal with loss. But when these normal responses go awry, our ability to use the emotional energy created is compromised. Those emotions can become overwhelming and overpowering and may feel as though they are taking over our lives. Without treatment or tools to effectively manage that experience, many of those dealing with anxiety and depression embrace unhealthy coping mechanisms in order to deal with their day to day lives. When this happens, it only complicates the problem because now multiple disorders must be treated in order for the person to get back to a place of manageable mental health.   The complications caused by co-existing conditions only underline the importance of treating anxiety and depression as early as possible.

The most common anxiety and depressive disorders experienced by teenagers are:

Panic Disorder

Anxiety is normal in all of us, even our teenagers. However, for some people, anxiety can become overwhelming, all-encompassing, and debilitating. When anxiety shifts from normal day to day worries to something more, an anxiety disorder may be to blame. For parents of teenagers with anxiety disorders, it can be as important to understand what makes things worse as it is to understand what makes it better.

Learn more about Panic Attacks (https://www.doorwaysarizona.com/7-things-make-anxiety-attacks-worse-teens/)


While fear and anxiety can be healthy responses, they can also expand beyond healthy to become unhealthy, hindering, and even harmful. When fear takes on a life of its own and expands to encompass things that are not actually a direct and immediate threat, that fear becomes a phobia.   Phobias are fueled by fearful emotions that are severe, extreme, and persistent and can trip the fight or flight response even when there is no direct and immediate threat of harm.   Anxiety can also expand beyond what is normal and helpful to become a phobia, an anxiety disorder, or and anxiety disorder tied to a phobia.

Learn more about Phobias

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that can affect people of all ages, even teenagers. People with OCD experience excessive worry about specific things, called obsessions, which they cannot control and in an effort to manage their anxiety, they feel compelled to perform certain ritualistic behaviors. Teenagers with OCD may develop obsessions related to normal teenage worries like school or friends but their obsessions can be related to almost anything. Since it is normal for teenagers to experience anxiety, parents often wonder how to differentiate between normal anxiety and worry and OCD.

Learn more about OCD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can affect anyone at any age, can be difficult to diagnose because there may be a lag between the start of symptoms and the triggering traumatic event. In fact, it is not uncommon for symptoms to start slowly and increase in frequency and/or severity over time. This is one reason that understanding the signs and symptoms of PTSD is crucial for anyone who has experienced trauma or who has a loved one that has been through a traumatic event. The key to managing and overcoming the disorder is timely diagnosis and treatment which underlines the importance of knowing what to look for and knowing when it is time to seek help.

Learn more about PTSD

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Everyone worries about things, even children and teenagers. Whether the worry is over the upcoming history test, getting a date to the prom, or making the soccer team, anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. However, in some people, normal everyday worries can become excessive and everyday things can cause severe anxiety. This type of anxiety is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it affects about 3% of the U.S. population each year, including one in eight children.

Learn more about GAD.

Clinical Depression

Depression in teenagers doesn’t always look the way we, as parents, expect it to. Sometimes the symptoms of depression can look a lot like normal teenage angst which means it goes undiagnosed. But getting teens who are dealing with depression the help they need is critical because depression impacts all areas of their life and if left untreated it can result in serious long-term problems. Here are some of the important facts about teenage depression that parents need to know in order to recognize the signs in their own child and to know what steps to take to get them the help they need.

Learn more about Depression

All of these disorders can be treated by qualified mental health providers and teenagers with these conditions can go on to live happy, healthy lives.

Related Articles:

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About PTSD


Learn these facts about PTSD (photo credit: BigStickPhoto.com)

Learn these facts about PTSD (photo credit: BigStickPhoto.com)

1.     It Isn’t Just for Veterans

While much of the press coverage about PTSD relates to veterans of various wars, anyone who experiences a traumatic event can suffer from PTSD.  Knowing the signs and seeking help are the most important things parents can do to help if they believe their teenager is dealing with PTSD.

2.     It Doesn’t Always Mean Having Flashbacks

While flashbacks are one of the symptoms most commonly associated with PTSD, it isn’t the only symptom and some people with the condition never experience this symptom at all.  There are three different types of symptoms that can affect those with PTSD.  Intrusive thoughts and/or emotions are one of those types and it includes flashbacks and nightmares.

3.     It Can Make it Hard to Do Things You Love

Another type of symptom is called avoidance or numbing symptoms.  This type can include avoiding people, locations, or situations that serve as a reminder of the traumatic event.  It also includes emotional detachment and memory blocking.

4.     It Can Make you Jumpy

The third type of symptom is called hyper-arousal symptoms which includes things like being jumpy, easily startled, and having panic attacks.  Hyper-arousal can also make people feel very on edge all the time as if they have to be on high alert at all times.

5.     It Can Cause Aches and Pains

In addition to the PTSD-specific symptoms listed above, this disorder can also cause other less-specific symptoms like unexplained aches and pains, difficulty sleeping, and being moody or irritable.

6.     It Can Cause Depression

PTSD can cause or co-exist with other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and substance abuse problems.  It is important to have all mental health problems diagnosed and treated as treating one and not another can result in relapses, set-backs, and lack of progress.

7.     Gratitude Can Help

One strategy that those with this disorder can use to alleviate acute symptoms is to focus on finding three things in their life that they are grateful for.  The purpose is to shift the focus from the anxiety or stress of the trauma to the positive thoughts related to gratitude which can help keep symptoms from intensifying.

8.     Distractions Can Help

Making the conscious choice to do something to take the mind off of the event and the resulting symptoms can also help mitigate acute symptoms.  Reading a book, listening to or playing music, working in a garden, or any pleasant activity can also help keep symptoms from intensifying and getting out of control.

9.     Exercise Can Help

Running, hiking, or doing any kind of vigorous exercise can also help alleviate acute PTSD symptoms.  Try for 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise while maintaining mental focus on what it happening right now.  This can keep the mind from straying into unhelpful territory.

10.  Anchors Can Help

Those with PTSD can also use something called an anchor to calm themselves down and keep symptoms from intensifying if they are triggered.  Anchors are often a physical object like a ring, a stone, or a picture that offers a reminder of a happy time, place, or event.

When Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders Co-exist

Do you know how eating disorders and anxiety disorders can go hand in hand? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Do you know how eating disorders and anxiety disorders can go hand in hand? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

For many people with eating disorders, the challenge of overcoming their disorder is complicated because of other coexisting mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.  In fact, a University of Pittsburg Medical Center study conducted in 2004 found that two-thirds of those diagnosed with eating disorders also suffered from some form of anxiety disorder over the course of their lives.  In many cases, the anxiety disorder started in childhood, predating the eating disorder.   This underlines how important it is for parents to understand the warning signs of both anxiety disorders and eating disorders and to seek treatment for either condition or both conditions as soon as they see the signs.

When someone suffers from an anxiety disorder, they struggle with excessive, persistent, pervasive worry and fear that is unreasonable to the reality of their situation.  This constant anxiety may center on specific circumstances or activities or it can apply to a broader experience or concern.  There are several different types of anxiety disorders that each manifest differently and can cause different symptoms.  The most common anxiety disorders are:

Signs of Commonly Co-Existing Anxiety Disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the anxiety disorder that is most frequently seen with eating disorders.  When OCD and an eating disorder co-exist, the two disorders can intertwine causing the person to develop ritualistic behaviors associated with food.  An example of how this would look to parents would be a teenager that obsessively counts calories, weighs their food, or will only eat at specific times of day.  Other anxiety disorders that commonly co-exist with eating disorders are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive and persistent thoughts, behaviors, or impulses that are unwanted, involuntary, and often seem nonsensical, even to the person who is doing them.  People with this disorder generally experience obsessive thoughts that drive compulsive behaviors.  These behaviors are often repetitive and are meant to ease the anxiety resulting from the obsessive thought.  They are compulsions which makes it very difficult not to do them, people with this disorder can feel driven to complete the compulsive acts and distress can quickly amplify if they are unable to do so.  Examples of obsessive thoughts and compulsions include:

  • Fear of germs, dirt, or contamination that results in avoidance and/or compulsive behaviors like frequent hand washing
  • Needing things to be kept orderly and symmetrical or in a specific order or pattern and experiencing pain, stress, or anger when things are out of place
  • Fear of forgetting things like locking the door or turning off the stove that results in checking and rechecking behavior

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms come in three different categories.  The first, intrusive memories include things that are commonly associated with PTSD like flashbacks and nightmares.  The second, avoidance and numbing, includes avoiding thinking about, talking about, or doing anything related to the traumatic event. It can also include avoiding previously enjoyable activities, difficulties with memory and concentration, and “checking out” by retreating to a numb state.  The third, hyper-arousal, includes uncharacteristic irritability and anger, self-destructive behavior, problems sleeping, and being easily startled.

Understanding, Diagnosing and Treating PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can affect anyone at any age, can be difficult to diagnose because there may be a lag between the start of symptoms and the triggering traumatic event.  In fact, it is not uncommon for symptoms to start slowly and increase in frequency and/or severity over time.  This is one reason that understanding the signs and symptoms of PTSD

Heed these warning signs that your teen may have PTSD (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Heed these warning signs that your teen may have PTSD (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

is crucial for anyone who has experienced trauma or who has a loved one that has been through a traumatic event.  The key to managing and overcoming the disorder is timely diagnosis and treatment which underlines the importance of knowing what to look for and knowing when it is time to seek help.

There are many challenges for those living with and working with PTSD.  Diagnosis can be challenging because symptoms do not present the same way in every person.  The start of symptoms may not seem to link back to the trauma which can also lead to missed or misdiagnosis.  Because there is still much we don’t know about the disorder, it is difficult to predict who will experience it and who won’t.  There are, however, some common risk factors that seem to make people more susceptible to PTSD.

  • Previously experiencing a traumatic event
  • History of mental illness
  • Lack of social support following the trauma
  • Being injured in the course of the event

Diagnosis is made by a qualified mental health practitioner based on a discussion with the person experiencing the symptoms.  In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that a person must be experiencing at least one of the following for a month or more:

  1. One or more re-experiencing symptoms which include nightmares, flashbacks, and frightening thoughts
  2. Three or more avoidance symptoms like avoiding places, objects, or events that are similar to the traumatic event, experiencing a consistent feeling of being numb, losing interest in favorite activities, and difficulties with memory related to the event
  3. Two or more hyperarousal symptoms like being easily startled, feeling tense, feeling on edge all the time, and having angry outbursts
  4. Other symptoms that make it difficult to participate in daily life

While PTSD is treatable, it rarely resolves itself without the assistance of professional help.  Most people with the condition recover fully after treatment.  The most common forms of treatment are therapy and medication.  A variety of therapeutic approaches have been used successfully to treat the disorder including cognitive behavior therapy, talk therapy, and exposure therapy.  Most treatment plans use a mix of these methods to achieve the best overall result.  When medication is used as part of the treatment plan, it’s job is often to alleviate the symptoms of other underlying conditions like depression or anxiety that can exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD and make recovery more challenging.

If you are concerned that your teen is suffering from PTSD, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with a qualified mental health practitioner.  Remember that PTSD is treatable and complete recovery is possible, but getting help is the fastest path to those outcomes.