Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety condition brought on by exposure to a disturbing event. Children who suffer from PTSD may exhibit detachment, difficulty sleeping, and irritability. They also often dream about the traumatic event, or reenact it during playtime. Though PTSD-like symptoms are common among children and adolescents exposed to trauma, the disorder is rare in young people.
- Difficulty sleeping and frequent nightmares about the traumatic event
- Detachment, irritability, and frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Recreating the traumatic event during play
- Young children may regress—begin wetting the bed again, stop speaking, or become overly clingy with parents
- Adolescents may exhibit feelings of guilt and engage in self-destructive behavior
PTSD is a failure to rebound or recover in a healthy way after experiencing a traumatic event. Violence, physical or sexual abuse, extreme neglect, bullying, bad accidents, and natural disasters can trigger PTSD. What causes one child to bounce back from a disturbing experience and another to develop PTSD? Susceptibility seems to run in families but it’s not known whether that reflects a genetic component or that children learn unhealthy responses to trauma from their parents.
The treatment for PTSD often requires both behavioral therapy and medication.
Behavioral: Psychotherapy that helps children speak, draw, play, or write about their trauma has been successful in easing symptoms. In other cases, your child’s clinician might recommend cognitive behavior therapy to teach your child to cope with his or her fear instead of addressing the trauma directly. Therapy sessions for children almost always involve a parent, a family member, or another caregiver.
Pharmacological: Medication may be prescribed to help alleviate fear and anxiety, starting with antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. If your child has persistent bad dreams, a drug used to treat hypertension called Prazosin has proven effective in curbing them.