Treating Teen PTSD and Co-Occurring Psychosis

Sometimes, experiencing a traumatic event (such as a car accident, death in the family, divorce, physical violence, or witnessing violence) won’t leave any lasting effect on a teenager once the event has passed. However, depending on the severity of the event, the resiliency of the teen, their psychological makeup, conditioning, ethnicity, and other factors, the event can leave severe effects on the psyche, leading to mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and even bipolar disorder.

If PTSD does develop, typical symptoms 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.

However, recent research also indicates that a symptom of PTSD is also the development of psychosis. PTSD is a diagnosis that is still undergoing investigation. It seems to be deeply embedded into our understanding of consciousness itself, and requires further understanding. Researchers have found that those who have experienced psychosis are more likely to also have PTSD. Studies reveal that up to half of those who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder also had PTSD.

However, it’s important to note that some mental health experts believe that the development of PTSD was a result of experiencing psychosis. Certainly, hallucinations and delusional thinking can lead to feeling terrified and helpless. Furthermore, those who experience psychosis, which includes persecutory delusions, might feel as though their lives are threatened, which can be a trigger for PTSD.

At the same time, researchers also believe that traumatic experiences contribute to the development of psychosis, even if they do not develop PTSD as a result of that trauma. Studies reveal that 70 to 90 percent of people who have experienced symptoms of psychosis have also experienced at least one traumatic event in their life. Lastly, some experts believe that the vivid flashbacks experienced with PTSD, if untreated, can develop into hallucinations that are associated with psychosis.

It’s becoming more and more clear to experts that psychosis and PTSD are intimately related. In fact, as a way to facilitate a better understanding of PTSD, Judith Herman, clinical psychology professor at Harvard University wrote one of the most meaningful books on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Trauma and Recovery. In her book, she proposed Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), a version of the diagnosis found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Her proposed diagnosis addresses the psychological effect on an individual who has had a series of traumatic events, unlike the DSM, which outlines PTSD as a diagnosis for someone who has experienced a single traumatic event such as a natural disaster, rape, or car accident.

Treating PTSD effectively includes both psychotherapy and medication. The medication can help manage fluctuating moods and high levels of anxiety. And, therapy can provide ways to cope with the anxiety, facilitate awareness of triggers that might prompt a distressing memory, and provide comfort through a difficult time. A specific type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be used to specifically address PTSD. CBT for PTSD has proven to be highly effective among teens.

However, because of the research, mental health professionals are beginning to recognize the need to screen for PTSD in those who have already psychosis. Additionally, if those teens are receiving treatment for psychosis, they might also benefit from CBT for PTSD. Furthermore, a significant part of PTSD teen treatment is to eventually uncover the emotions of terror. Once those emotions are brought to the surface and finally experienced, that’s when the flashbacks and the emotional deregulation will most likely cease.

For teens who experience both PTSD and psychosis, CBT can be an effective healing tool. For parents who suspect that their teen needs mental health services, call upon the support of a psychologist or therapist in your area.

Related Links

When Teen PTSD Requires Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Understanding the Diagnosis of PTSD

Teens Are More Vulnerable to PTSD Than Adults

Is There a Link Between Alcoholism and PTSD Among Teens?