PTSD in Teens and Young Adults

Teen and young adult Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 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, 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.

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 for PTSD are very subjective.

What Does Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Look Like?

  • A person with PTSD would often be going through the feelings and trauma of the triggering incident, as if it’s still happening.
  • Because of the intensity and persistence of the lingering symptoms, a person can try to escape such feelings by avoiding parts of life that may trigger a reaction, leading to isolation.
  • In contrast to a person becoming numb to deal with their symptoms, they may in fact become hypersensitive to certain stimuli, reacting violently if touched or surprised.

Different Types of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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.

Causes of Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Teen and young adult PTSD is by definition caused by trauma. However, it is much more likely to occur in those who have a history of anxiety issues, or a family history of post-traumatic stress disorders.

Genetics – A major indication of possible PTSD is if a teen or young adult has someone else in the family with anxiety issues.

Extreme stress – 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 (being hurt by another person) and/or sexual assault. PTSD is most often associated with the military and combat, and younger soldiers are far more likely to develop PTSD than older soldiers. Women are roughly twice as likely to experience PTSD than men.

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

Offer to go get help together – it can be frustrating and scary 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 out 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. It can mean a lot to simply be there for your teen or young adult while they’re going through their treatment.

Engage in physical activities together – one way to help a teen or young adult take their mind off the disorder and off their treatment is by taking every opportunity to spend time together doing things that can help them better cope with their stress and enjoy themselves in a healthy way. Take up a class together, go hiking or swimming, or encourage your teen to take up exercising in other ways, from dance lessons to a gym membership or a self-defense school.Video Player

Learn more about PTSD – it’s important to your teen or young adult 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.

What Types of Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatments Are Available?

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 in whatever way is best. While medication can be potentially useful in certain cases, it is not usually recommended. Antidepressants may help reduce some symptoms of anxiety, but benzodiazepines and sedatives are typically more dangerous to prescribe, due to concerns of dependence and no effect on a patient’s core symptoms.

Talk Therapy – There are many different approaches to talk therapy that can be very useful in helping a person with PTSD.  Some of these include a gradual, controlled approach to addressing the traumatic event, which 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 see the reactions they’re having to reminders of the incident, and gradually re-pattern their reactions to be healthier, over time.

Group Therapy – 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 – Medication for PTSD is not typically used to treat the flashbacks or PTSD itself, but to counteract debilitating symptoms of 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.

Teen & Young Adult Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment 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. It may take some time to make significant headway, but getting your teen or young adult into a treatment program sooner rather than later will make a difference in the long-run.

Out in Nature – Paradigm Treatment’s various locations are all enveloped in nature, with access to the beach, nearby hiking trails, and/or other various amenities. Paradigm Treatment values the efficacy of treating mental health issues in proximity to clean air, sunshine, and a good atmosphere. These things don’t cure illnesses like PTSD, but they can help teens and young adults get better, while giving them a myriad of options to spend the day outside of treatment.

Paradigm staff created a possibility for our family to really to talk each other and help our teen figure out what is best for her. She wasn’t able to hide in her BS answers like at other facilities, she was really given a chance to talk honestly about what was going on and help her get to a place where she could work from. The support, the therapy (OMG the THERAPY can we just say?! Not just for our teen but our family trying to really heal and come to a better way to communicate!) When things get hard, you aren’t always sure who is going to be there – but the Paradigm Treatment staff had her back and ours. 

Alison D., parent of a former client

A Carefully-Planned Program – Paradigm Treatment offers a form of residential treatment where small groups of teens and young adults are treated through individualized therapy, various lessons, group sessions, activities, and events, while giving them the freedom to spend their free time as they see fit. Every case of PTSD is different, and there is no straightforward way to treat this condition. This is why it’s important to tailor treatment to an individual. In a group, however, success relies on having an experienced counselor or facilitator oversee and direct a group to help each individual cope with social interaction and benefit from it.

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

When will this be over?

Unfortunately, we can’t promise just 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 that makes PTSD go away completely, but with treatment, you can reduce the intensity of symptoms and even get rid of them in some cases.

What should I do if I think I have PTSD?

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 and what they might mean. Regardless of whether you get a self-screen or not, it’s definitely important to contact a professional and get a diagnosis. The sooner a proper diagnosis is made, the sooner you can get the help you need, and get better. What that means exactly is different from person to person, but a professional therapist can help you find your definition.


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