Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can be a serious condition, and while we tend to associate it with people who have had dramatic brushes with death (such as combat soldiers), it can affect people from all walks of life, including children and adolescents. While exceptionalities such as ADHD and dyslexia are perhaps more commonly associated with young folk, PTSD can also have a profound impact on learning and achievement. Let us, therefore, take a closer look at this malady.
What is PTSD?
Boiled down to a simple description, PTSD is a mental health disorder that results from a person having an experience that brings them close to death or makes them feel extreme fear. Survivors of natural disasters and terrifying phenomena like car crashes and child abuse are known to experience PTSD as a result. In essence, the brain gets locked into a kind of “survival mode,” as though the traumatic event could happen again at any moment. PTSD afflicts the survivor with flashbacks as well as powerful feelings of anxiety, sadness and/or anger.
Imagine surviving a nightmare such as a plane crash. Now imagine you’re stuck in that moment for years. That is PTSD.
What are the effects of PTSD on young people?
Young folks with PTSD often struggle with school. They can find it very hard to regulate their emotions, sometimes acting out inappropriately and getting in trouble. What’s more, they frequently resort to alcohol or drugs to numb their pain, which in turn can lead to bad choices -- and more trauma.
The worst thing about PTSD is that it usually ends up causing the very worst thing for someone with PTSD: alienation.
How is PTSD treated?
In many cases, the symptoms of PTSD will eventually fade away as the young person begins to feel safe again. In other cases, a variety of treatments are available that have been shown to be very effective. In younger kids, play therapy has shown excellent results, with a combination of play and craft helping the child process their feelings.
In older kids, therapies include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which is designed to modify one’s responses to stimuli -- in this case to train the young person to avert that “survival mode” in favor of something more peaceful. Psychological first aid (PFA) is usually introduced as soon as possible after the traumatic event and is designed to soothe the young person and make them feel safe. Other, more specialized treatments are sometimes employed when necessary (for instance in the case of abuse victims).
The important thing is to seek help as soon as possible, because while left untreated PTSD may go away on its own, it could also result in tragedy.
What’s the most important thing to know about PTSD?
Whether combat veteran or traumatized teen, PTSD is made much worse with social isolation. In our society it is often very difficult to form deep connections with other people, but that is the most important way to help someone overcome their PTSD. That feeling of being understood, of empathy and togetherness, is the very best way to restore a feeling of safety to a survivor of trauma. While high school difficulties such as bullying or gossip might threaten to push someone with PTSD over the edge, things like a tight social circle, unquestioned friendship and unconditional familial love can bring healing.