What are the signs of PTSD?
With the recent events in Boston, it’s natural to feel a certain amount of stress. And since our media coverage is so thorough, it’s hard to get away from it. Violent events take their toll on our spirits in ways that is not necessarily visible from the outside. But how can we differentiate between normal stress reactions and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? People react to events like these in different ways. According to the VA National Center for PTSD, “Survivors of community violence [such as what we’ve just witnessed in Boston] struggle with many vital personal issues [long term]:
- How to build trust again.
- Seeking meaning in life apart from revenge or hopelessness.
- Regaining trust versus being trapped in feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt.
- Finding realistic ways to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and community from danger.
- Healing traumatic losses and putting memories of violence to rest without trying to avoid or erase them.
- Commitment or recommitment to life (choosing life versus seeking escape through suicide)”
So how do I know if my child is suffering with PTSD?
There is a lot of information about recognizing the signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disord
er. The American Academy of Child and Adolescents Psychiatry advises that a child’s risk of developing PTSD is related to the seriousness of the trauma, whether the trauma is repeated, the child’s proximity to the trauma, and the relationship to the victim(s). Parent’s reaction to the trauma is very important. “Following the trauma, children may initially show agitated or confused behavior. They may show intense fear, helplessness, anger, sadness, horror, or denial. Children who experience repeated trauma may develop a kind of emotional numbing to deaden or block the pain and trauma. This is called disassociation. A child with PTSD may also re-experience the traumatic event through memories (displayed in play), frightening dreams, reliving the experience over and over, developing repeated physical emotional symptoms when the child is reminded of the even [sudden loud noises, smell of smoke in the case in Boston]. Children may also show the following symptoms:
- worry about dying at an early age
- losing interest in activities
- physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
- showing more sudden and extreme emotional reactions
- having problems falling asleep or staying asleep
- irritability or angry outbursts
- problems concentrating
- acting younger than their age (clingy, whiny behavior, thumb-sucking)
- showing increased alertness to the environment
- repeating behavior that reminds them of the trauma
Seek help immediately!
The symptoms of PTSD may last for several months to many years. Early intervention is essential. If you think your child may be experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact a mental health care professional immediately. There are some helpful resources on this site that may be able to guide you to to the help you need. Your pediatrician is also a helpful resource. Also, local psychiatric hospitals offer free assessments and can guide you to the proper help for your specific need. The time you spend in prevention now, the easier to recovery will become later.