You might already know that childhood trauma can affect an individual’s mental health for decades to come. In some cases, trauma can affect a person for a lifetime. There are many different types of trauma that can affect children and teens, and there are many ways that a person can react to trauma. Here is your guide to how childhood trauma affects mental health and what to do if you or your child is struggling with issues related to trauma.
Types of Childhood Trauma
Unfortunately, there are many types of trauma that can affect a child as well as the adult that the child will become. One example is child abuse. Whether it’s physical, mental, or sexual, and whether it takes place during early childhood, the teen years, or somewhere in between, child abuse negatively affects an individual for many years.
Other types of childhood trauma can include:
- Witnessing a violent or traumatic event
- Being in a severe accident
- Having a severe illness/hospitalization
- Losing a parent or sibling
- Being physically or sexually assaulted
- Being bullied
- Losing a close friend.
Any or all of these can cause impacts that are felt many years after the incident is over.
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Trauma Can Cause PTSD
You might think that post-traumatic stress disorder, often abbreviated to PTSD, is something that affects only veterans who served in a war. It can actually affect anyone who has suffered a trauma or loss, including children and teenagers. PTSD can crop up days, weeks, months, or even years after a traumatic event.
Some of the signs of PTSD include:
- Traumatic and disturbing memories. The person might relive the trauma and this includes reliving it in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. They might develop heart palpitations, headaches, sweating, shaking, and other signs of a panic attack as they deal with these intrusive thoughts and memories.
- Avoidance or isolation. The individual might be afraid of having a panic attack while out in public and might isolate him- or herself in their home. They might also avoid anything that reminds them of the incident or trauma. For example, if they witnessed a severe car accident, they might go out of their way to avoid that highway or intersection.
- Irrational outbursts. The person might have angry outbursts that aren’t rational to anyone else. They might think that they are in danger or under attack at times when others would not and do not perceive those threats.
These behaviors and feelings can crop up at any time after the initial event and might persist to the point where the person’s everyday activities are impacted.
Trauma Can Cause Trouble with Relationships
If a child is abused or suffers some other trauma, they might have a hard time forging trusting relationships with others. This can affect their relationships with their parents, their friends, authority figures, and, later in life, romantic partners. It can also affect their relationships with their own children. They might be aggressive toward others and they might have an especially hard time obeying or trusting adults such as parents, foster parents, teachers, coaches, employers, and others.
When traumatized children grow up and have children of their own, particularly if the individual was abused or neglected as a child, they might perpetuate the cycle and abuse or neglect their own children. A child who grows up seeing one parent acting violently toward another might become violent or stay in a violent relationship.
In many cases, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy can help children, teens, and adults who have trouble creating and maintaining appropriate relationships as a result of trauma.
Trouble in School
Children who go through trauma often have difficulties in school. They might have trouble focusing or they might bully other children. Sometimes they become victims of bullies themselves, which only adds to their trauma. As time goes by, they can fall behind in school and find it very difficult to catch up even if they want to. Of course, this situation can lead to a lack of success in college and, later, in the working world.
If your child has suffered from trauma, it is important to get him or her the help they need. This might include tutoring or emotional support in school so they can succeed to the best of their ability.
Depression or Anxiety
Trauma during childhood can cause depression or an anxiety disorder. In severe cases, these issues can even lead to suicide. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of these common mental health issues so that you can get your child the help that they need.
Note that depression and anxiety caused by trauma might only show up years later. In some cases, the symptoms show up during childhood but the connection isn’t made until later that it is stemming from the trauma.
Counseling and therapy can help bring these issues to light and teach the child or adult how to better cope with their feelings. In some cases, medication can also help people cope well into adulthood.
Severe Mental Health Issues
In some cases, trauma can cause issues such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), reactive attachment disorder, dissociative identity disorder (often called multiple personality disorder), and other major mental health conditions. These issues need to be diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist. Treatments might include inpatient care, intensive therapy, and medications. In some cases, people with these conditions might need lifelong therapy and support.
Understanding how trauma affects children and adults is important if you or your child has been exposed to something traumatic. Your primary care doctor can refer you to a mental health specialist, if necessary, to help you deal with these difficulties. With good care, you should notice an improvement in how you feel and how you are able to interact with others. Talk to your physician if you believe that you are being impacted by childhood trauma, even if you are well into adulthood.