By Mrs. Upasana Chaddha Vij, Psychology,
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is an anxiety disorder which occurs after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic/shocking event. The incident may involve a perceived or real threat of death or injury resulting from an assault, sexual/physical abuse, a combat, a fatal accident or a natural disaster (earthquake, fire or flood). PTSD can strike anyone at any age, but children are most likely to have this condition. Children with PTSD have an increased sense of danger that makes them vulnerable to stress and fear even in the safest of circumstances. For instance, a child who’s seen violence at home from an early age, will have upsetting, repetitive memories of the incident that may trigger PTSD.
Almost all children who’ve been through sexual abuse will witness PTSD.
Approximately, 4% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 years develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder by the time they become adults.
What are the causes of PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in children is often triggered by certain sounds, sights or smell that bring back the memories of the event, and cause intense physical, emotional reactions like sweating, muscle tension, rapid heart rate. The probability of witnessing PTSD increases with the gravity of the trauma. The following factors can trigger the condition-
- Community violence- mugging, shooting
- Unexpected/ violent loss of someone near and dear (accidental/suicidal death)
- Political violence- terrorism, war
- Domestic violence
- Physical assault
- Sexual abuse
Some notable facts about post-traumatic stress disorder in children are:
- About 39% children between 3-8 years of age, 33% of those between 9-12 years of age and 27% of those between 13-19 years of age develop PTSD in response to trauma. This shows that experiencing trauma at a younger age results in greater chances of developing PTSD.
- Constantly watching violent images on TV or other forms of visual media can result in PTSD too. The initial trauma may be a reason for an affinity for mindless cruelty later in life.
Signs and symptoms of PTSD-
The symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder fall into four categories-
- Invasive, vivid memories of the incident
- Frequent nightmares
- Emotional apathy
- Unable to express emotions/feeling
- Avoiding situations or people that act as reminders of the incident
- Irritability and agitation
- Difficulty concentrating or falling asleep
- Constant feeling of being on guard
Cognition and mood
- Distorted feelings
- Negative thoughts
Some symptoms of PTSD according to the age groups:
1-7 years of age
- The child’s responses are not normal
- The child suffers from persistent nightmares
- The child has general sense of fear which has no specific reason
8-11 years of age
- Aggressive behaviour is seen in the child
- The child suffers from acute feelings of guilt
- The child has frequent angry outbursts
12-19 years of age
- Traumatic DisorderThe child has a furious desire for revenge for petty things
- The child is withdrawn and self-conscious
- Sometimes, they may display habits of creating aggressive scenarios in their mind, for reasons they do not understand themselves.
These symptoms can disrupt normal activities and interfere with your functional ability. How can PTSD be treated?
Children with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder need constant support and care to continue living a normal, stress-free life. The following therapy methods can help deal with PTSD symptoms-
- Cognitive behavioral therapy- This involves communicating with someone close, someone the child can trust and confide into. The person communicating with the child can either be his/her parent, or the therapist/doctor. This encourages a child to recall the event and express their feelings. This helps manage the condition.
- Exposure therapy- The therapist exposes the patient to the source of anxiety, only after making sure that the situation poses no real danger to the suffering individual. This behavioral therapy helps reduce repetitive nightmares and flashbacks.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing- This treatment method is designed to reduce distress related to the traumatic event. The therapist will urge you to recall the incident and observe changes in your behavior. Making or avoiding eye contact, slight movement of your eyes- all these may indicate discomfort and uneasiness while talking about a particular event.
Psychotherapy is an effective method of dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It can help the child manage triggers- stress and anxiety- and face their fears. There are support groups to cope with this condition.
Children no longer have sheltered existence from personal and public disasters. Accidents, physical and sexual abuse, weak inter-personal relationships in the family leave deep scars on a child’s psyche. Trauma is increasingly personal nowadays, and so psychological problems arise frequently.