PTSD Symptoms in Children

Instructor: David White
PTSD is among the most complicated disorders to recognize, particularly in children living with the disorder. Through this lesson you will learn how PTSD manifests itself in children and explore some of the more common symptoms.

What is PTSD?

Our understanding of mental illness and emotional distress has come a long way over the last fifty or so years, yet it is still far from an exact science. We can now identify a wide variety of illnesses and symptoms, and have even developed many effective treatments. However, barriers to diagnosis and treatment remain, in part because symptoms of illness show up differently in different people. This is perhaps most evident when it comes to treating PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is caused by exposure to a traumatic event, particularly when the individual genuinely believes that their life is in danger. In many cases, 'trauma' is subjective, meaning that what one person finds traumatic, another might not. This makes predicting who is at risk for PTSD nearly impossible; however, there are circumstances in which the likelihood of it occurring is much higher. People who have been in combat or regularly experienced other types of violence, for example, have a much greater potential for developing PTSD.

The symptoms of the disorder are also hard to identify because there are many and they can manifest in different ways. Typically, symptoms appear immediately or shortly after the event and last longer than a month. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, irrational fear, and depression.

PTSD in Children

Given the complexity and unpredictability of PTSD, you can imagine how difficult the disorder is to treat. This difficulty becomes doubly challenging when treating children with the disorder. Unlike adults, children lack the insight, experience, and awareness that are often necessary to identify symptoms of dysfunction. Moreover, they may not know what it is that caused the trauma in the first place. These facts can make it difficult for them to recognize that something is wrong and to articulate to others what is happening.

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