Trauma is an experience that includes the fear of losing one’s life. That intense fear can have a heavy impact on a person’s mind, especially the mind of a teen or child. At the same time, the ways that trauma affects someone can vary widely. One person can go through a traumatic experience and later have little emotional or psychological reactions to the event. While another person can experience the same trauma and feel crippled by it. Responses to trauma can vary.
Also, just as the types of responses may vary, the reaction itself may be delayed in some people. Some may experience an immediate effect of trauma while others may not experience anything for a few weeks. Yet, whether there is a delay or not, experts have seen a set of common reactions to trauma in adults and children at various ages. For adolescents, the reactions to trauma can include:
- Feeling depressed or sad
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts
- Feeling physical aches and pains
- Experiencing nightmares or interruptions in sleep schedule
- Using drugs or alcohol as a means to cope with what happened
- Avoiding any reminders of the trauma
- Experiencing behavioral problems, such as aggression or destruction of self, others, and property
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Feeling guilty about what happened
- Feeling shame about the trauma
- Feeling lost or confused
- Getting angry frequently
- Loss of trust in the world, others, and themselves
- Fear that the trauma may happen again
It’s important to keep in mind that not all teens will experience all the above reactions to trauma. A teen’s response to trauma will vary depending upon how resilient a teen is, and that can depend upon one or more of the following factors:
- Whether a teen already has a mental illness
- Whether a teen has experienced trauma before
- How much support a teen has before, during, and after the trauma
- The level of maturity of an adolescent
- The level of understanding a teen might have had about the event
Those teens who have an existing mental illness, past traumatic experiences, and/or little support from family and friends may be more at risk for developing more serious responses to trauma. When a teen does show signs of experiencing a trauma, he or she may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if those signs persist for longer than 6 months.
There are many things that parents and caregivers can do to help teens who have experienced trauma. These include:
- Let your teen know that it’s okay to feel and express any emotions they may have about the event.
- Talk to your teens about their feelings and thoughts regarding what happened.
- Let your teen know how much you care about them and love them.
- Communicate to your teen that you’re able to get professional help, if they need it.
- Let your teen know that the event wasn’t their fault.
As mentioned earlier, trauma can have serious consequences to a teen’s psychological, emotional, and even physical wellbeing. If you’re concerned about a teen who has recently experienced trauma and you’re not sure how to help, contact a mental health professional today.