PTSD in Young Adults and Teens

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that may develop in people who experience a traumatic event or circumstances. While this disorder is known to affect those who see combat, it can also develop in young people.

It’s important to note that while traumatic experiences are likely to trigger stress and anxiety, symptoms have to be very severe for a diagnosis of PTSD. People react to the same situation differently, and the causes of PTSD are very subjective. At Paradigm, we treat mental health for teens and young adults and can offer you recovery if you’re affected by PTSD.

What Is Teen & Young Adult Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD in young adults is an anxiety disorder that follows a specific traumatic event in a person’s life. Some of the common traumatic events that can lead to the disorder include: witnessing a death, surviving a school shooting, experiencing a life-threatening situation, sexual assault, experiencing a natural disaster, or physical assault.  It can also lead to or be experienced along with other anxiety disorders, or mood disorders such as depression.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with PTSD, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional and learn about treatment options.

Types of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

There are four main types of PTSD that young people may develop, including:

Acute Stress Disorder – Sometimes considered a pre-cursor to PTSD, this is characterized by symptoms of extreme stress and emotional recall lasting a month or less.

Acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Characterized by a person showing symptoms of PTSD for less than three months.

Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Characterized by a person experiencing symptoms for longer than three months. While chronic may imply symptoms that come and go, it instead means that the symptoms are long-lasting.

Delayed-Onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Characterized by a person not showing symptoms until much later after the traumatic event and experiencing symptoms for longer than six months.


PTSD Symptoms

PTSD symptoms vary from person to person and can depend on the type of cause of PTSD. Common symptoms for teens with PTSD include:

  • Vivid flashbacks of the trauma
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Intense distress due to trigger memories or reminders of the trauma
  • Sweating, nausea, or pain when triggered by the trauma
  • Intense nightmares
  • Having sleep problems such as insomnia
  • Avoidance of any reminders that may trigger a trauma response
  • Feeling numb emotionally
  • Being irritable or aggressive
  • Retreating from close relationships in their life
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Causes of Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Teen and young adult PTSD is by definition caused by trauma. However, genetics play a role and it’s more likely for those who have a history of anxiety issues, or a family history of post-traumatic stress disorders to develop PTSD.

The cause of every instance of PTSD is extreme stress. This stress is subjective, and most commonly occurs either in the form of physical violence and/or sexual assault. Developmental trauma is also a cause of PTSD in teens and young adults. Developmental trauma may involve traumatic events or repeated trauma early in a child’s life including childhood abuse or sexual abuse.

How Can I Help with Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

If you know someone who’s experienced trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, a school shooting, or a natural disaster, it’s important to check on them and possibly get professional help. Here are ways to help someone with PTSD symptoms:

It can be frustrating to deal with PTSD alone. While you can’t take on your loved one’s mental burden, you can help them by being there for them and encouraging them to seek treatment with you. Offer to bring them to a therapist and go with them during important meetings. Remind them that you’re there for them, for whatever they might need. Your support alone can make a difference.

One way to help a teen or young adult take their mind off the disorder is by taking every opportunity to spend time together doing things that can help them better cope with their stress and healthily enjoy themselves. Take a class together, go hiking or swimming, or encourage your teen to exercise in other ways, such as getting dance lessons, a gym membership, or self-defense training. This can improve their physical health as well as distract them from painful memories.

It’s important that you understand what they’re going through, at least enough to better understand how they might feel. Someone with PTSD may often feel angry, guilty, or ashamed after a particularly stressful event. These feelings don’t just foster a dark and difficult relationship with the past, but further increase the risk of depressive thinking and self-harm, while making social contact and any measure of interpersonal trust very difficult.

Treatment for Teen & Young Adult PTSD

Treating PTSD can be difficult, as teens and young adults usually respond differently to treatment. One of the primary goals for any therapist is to find the best way to approach a patient’s PTSD and work with them to reduce symptoms. While medication can be potentially useful in certain cases, it’s not usually recommended. Antidepressants may help reduce some symptoms of anxiety, but benzodiazepines and sedatives are typically more dangerous to prescribe because they can be addictive and have no effect on a patient’s core symptoms.

Trauma therapy is a form of talk therapy that focuses on the mental and emotional effects of PTSD. This includes a gradual, controlled approach to addressing the traumatic event. This helps a person develop healthy coping skills with which to respond to the incident and related reminders, rather than suffering uncontrolled, severe reactions because of it.  A therapist can help a person recognize triggers and replace fear with positive emotions. Teaching these coping skills can greatly improve day-to-day functioning for an individual.

This type of cognitive behavioral therapy addresses traumatic experiences and their mental and emotional effects. Therapists often bring in adults to participate if they’re not responsible for the physical abuse or other trauma in the child’s life. This incorporates principles of family therapy and can help restore or develop close relationships for the patient.

Group therapy can be especially successful for a person with PTSD, in providing them with a community of people that understand, first-hand, what they’re experiencing.  Furthermore, it allows a safe place within which a person can begin to face both the initial traumatic event they experienced, as well as the symptoms that have followed, where they can feel understood.

Medication for PTSD is not typically used to treat the flashbacks or PTSD itself, but to counteract debilitating symptoms of major depression and anxiety associated with the disorder. In this sense, medication can be used to reduce the risk of self-harm or suicide or help a teen function.

Not Ready to Talk?

Use Our Contact Form!


Want To Learn More?

Listen To Our Podcast!

Dual Diagnosis for Young Adults & Teens with PTSD

Dual diagnosis is when you have two or more mental health disorders at the same time. Co-occurring disorders that often get diagnosed with PTSD are depression and substance use disorder. Behavioral therapies and medications are the most effective treatment options for a dual diagnosis of PTSD and other mental health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Unfortunately, we can’t determine how quickly you’ll begin feeling relief from PTSD symptoms, but we can promise that there’s an excellent chance you’ll begin feeling better soon. Better, in this case, means reducing the effect the trauma has been having on you. Teen and young adult post-traumatic stress disorder treatment is variable, and the effects of the treatment depend on the person. There is no cure for PTSD, but with treatment, you can reduce the intensity of symptoms and even get rid of them in some cases.

There are resources online for helping teens and young adults self-screen for PTSD. The PC-PTSD-5 (Primary Care PTSD Screen as per the DSM-5) may give you a better understanding of your symptoms. It’s important to contact a professional and get a diagnosis if you suspect you have PTSD. A mental health professional can determine your mental health condition whether it’s PTSD or other mental health problems.

During a PTSD episode, you may experience flashbacks or dissociation. In a flashback, you may remember and relive all the feelings and thoughts of a traumatic experience. If you dissociate, you will feel disconnected from your body as if you’re observing yourself. Dissociation is a common coping mechanism for people who experience trauma. These episodes may be accompanied by panic attacks, which may include rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, and sudden fear.

Treating PTSD in Young Adults & Teens at Paradigm Treatment

Residential teen and young adult post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help teens better learn how to cope with their symptoms by immersing them in an environment that specifically caters to treatment. At Paradigm Treatment, we specialize in treating teens and young adults with mental health problems.

We offer a variety of therapies to address the psychological effects of trauma and provide true healing. In our residential program, we provide treatment for PTSD and can also help with PTSD-like symptoms. If you or a teen you know, is struggling with trauma, call us today and learn how we can help!

Other Youth Mental Health Topics You May Find Helpful…

When Teen PTSD Requires Inpatient or Residential Treatment

There are some events that are so distressing, they leave long-term effects on the mind and heart of those who experience them. This is especially true for teens who are […]

Continue Reading

Teen Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and Their Neurological Connections

Mental health disorders are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re very common, and anybody can suffer from one. Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are […]

Continue Reading

Adolescent PTSD: What You Need to Know

Often, people unfamiliar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associate the condition with adults, and specifically with military veterans. And while it isn’t uncommon for military veterans to experience PTSD as […]

Continue Reading

Traumatic Events Teens May Experience

If you think about traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder, you might not consider teenagers in the equation. Unfortunately, many teens do experience trauma in their young lives. This trauma […]

Continue Reading
Table of Content
Scroll to Top
Skip to content