A teenager is already vulnerable to certain psychological and emotional stressors at this stage of life. It’s a time of discovering identity and, to do that, needing to pull away from the family. With this, they may even feel, although faintly, a sense of loss from that experience. Teens are at a crossroads between childhood and adulthood, and susceptible to emotional upheaval, confusion, and turmoil. Their emotional and psychological foundations are already shaky.
For this reason, if a teenager also experiences trauma, he or she might be incredibly vulnerable to mental illness. An experience that is traumatic is one that threatens the injury, death, or physical integrity, and is usually accompanied by terror and helplessness. A traumatic event could be the death of a friend or family member, sexual or physical abuse, an automobile accident, domestic violence, school violence, experiences of war, the effects of natural disasters, and acts of terrorism.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than 2/3 of children report experiencing trauma before the age of 16. As a result of experiencing such an intense ordeal, along with feeling powerless to do anything about it, psychological symptoms often result. Although, each adolescent will respond to certain experiences differently, there are common indications that point to whether a mental illness exists.
For instance, the symptoms that develop after experiencing trauma include:
- Feeling numb, detached, or emotionally unresponsive
- Amnesia of parts or all of the traumatic event
- De-realization, a symptom in which the environment seems strange or unreal
- De-personalization, a symptom in which thoughts and feelings do not seem real
- Flashbacks or recurring images of the trauma
- Feelings of reliving the traumatic event
- Feeling high levels of stress when an object or person reminds you of the event
- Avoiding people, objects, and places that stimulate reliving the trauma
- Trouble sleeping
- Chronic tension
- Easily startled
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inability to sit still
As you can imagine, these symptoms can get in the way of your child functioning well in school, at home or work, or in any extracurricular activities. You might see a drop in grades, unhealthy family interactions, or a loss of interest in social activities.
If symptoms of trauma are not tended to quickly enough, they could exacerbate and have a dysfunctional and enduring impact. An adolescent would be diagnosed as having teen Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in which symptoms of trauma last longer than a month and become chronic and ongoing.
If, however, symptoms were treated quickly, where high levels of stress were the result of experiencing a recent trauma and symptoms of anxiety emerged within two days to one month, then a teen would be clinically diagnosed as having Acute Stress Disorder.
Research indicates that up to 33% of teens will develop these symptoms of distress after experiencing trauma. Those who are vulnerable to developing a mental illness typically have either experienced trauma in the past, already have a mental illness, or tend to dissociate during traumatic events.
Nonetheless, a teenager is like a tender flower, vulnerable to the stormy weather of adolescence. Providing the appropriate care, including mental health services especially after a potentially traumatic event, can help your child recover from such an experience and eventually fully blossom into adulthood.