An adolescent might be tall, well built, and appear fully physically developed. However, there is still significant amount of emotional and psychological growth that a teen must still go through. For example, the prefrontal cortex in the brain is still developing, and with this, their ability to reason and make logical decisions has some strengthening to do.
Yet, sadly, when a teen experiences trauma, this development can get thrown off course. His or her psychological and emotional development is skewed. A traumatic event is any occurrence in which a teen might have feared for his or her life. Examples of trauma include a car accident, witnessing violence, being involved in a natural disaster, witnessing domestic violence, abuse from a parent or another adult, and/or bullying. Of course, these are a mere sample of the traumatic events that teens might be exposed to during adolescence.
The typical symptoms of someone who has experienced a traumatic event and who has not sufficiently healed from that life-threatening experience include anxiety, extreme emotional fluctuation, flashbacks, loneliness, anger, irritability, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. An individual might also exhibit symptoms of avoidance, such as staying away from certain places to avoid reliving the traumatic experience or forgetting the experience entirely. Experiencing these symptoms is typical of what’s known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Furthermore, a teen’s beliefs about life and the way the world is ordered can change instantly. A deep trust in the world prior to trauma can easily turn into distrust of other people, life circumstances, and even oneself. This can be especially true if trauma repeats itself, such as witnessing death in war or ongoing sexual abuse by a family member. Repeated trauma can cause a worsening of anxiety, feeling a constant high level of alert and paranoia.
The inability to manage emotions, a typical symptom of PTSD, can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings when they seem frightening or overwhelming. They might be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. These emotions might also lead to shutting down. A traumatic event will affect a teen’s ability to learn, focus, and concentrate in school. Furthermore, if the trauma that a teen experienced was violent in some way, such as bullying or abuse, he or she may become aggressive and violent themselves.
In addition to the psychological and emotional responses to trauma, there are also physiological effects including disruption to their normal cortisol production pattern, which can have an effect on physical health. During a traumatic event, the body produces increased blood sugar levels to provide extra energy for the muscles. There is an increase in cortisol that counters the pain and inflammation in the body, if there is any. Blood pressure rises. Blood is pumped away from the extremities of the body towards major muscles in order to provide them with extra strength. And there is an increased amount of cortisol to facilitate ignoring physical pain in the body, if there is any. The long-term effect is an impaired production of cortisol in everyday life. Teens are hyper sensitive to stimuli, which is characteristic of PTSD. Typically, the fear associated with experiencing a traumatic event thwarts a teen’s ability to explore the world and causes them to feel unsafe in following their curiosity.
For all these reasons, it is important that a teen be seen by a mental health professional if you suspect symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms can begin as early as one month within experiencing trauma and, if not treated, can continue throughout the rest of a teen’s life. Untreated trauma can create significant damage to a teen’s psychological, emotional and physical well being. PTSD treatment typically includes therapy and medication, which can facilitate resolving and healing from a traumatic event.