Causes & Effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD and get help for your child, teen, or young adult.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

More often than not, when a person imagines an individual who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, an adult battling this condition is frequently the image that comes to mind. However, children and adolescents also struggle with this condition after experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a trauma or traumatic event. Regardless of a person’s age, the symptoms of this mental illness can cause a great deal of devastation to an indivuidual’s life and impair functioning in an array of settings. Additionally, post traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, can develop shortly or long after the initial traumatic trigger occurred.

Children and adolescents who grapple with this crippling disorder may perform poorly at school, act out at home, have increased interaction with law enforcement, or begin to abuse drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with PTSD symptoms. However, a key thing to know is that there are options for care that can help children and adolescent process feelings about their trauma, learn new methods for coping, and understand the impact of trauma on their lives. Lastly, seeking treatment can alleviate post traumatic stress disorder symptoms and allow young people with this disorder to go on to lead happy, healthy, productive lives.


PTSD statistics

Unfortunately, researchers believe that a number of children and adolescents do not receive treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, resulting in potentially inaccurate prevalence rates of this condition among young people. However, some studies have concluded that PTSD is more common among female children and adolescents than male children and adolescents. Three to fifteen present of girls are believed to suffer from this condition, while one to six percent of boy battle symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

Trauma experts agree that there are a number of causes and risk factors for the development of post traumatic stress. Consider the following explanations for what can make a person vulnerable to or develop this distressing mental illness:

Genetic: Since post traumatic stress disorder is triggered by an external stimuli, the heritability of this disorder is low. However, if a person possesses a genetic predisposition for certain other mental illnesses, there is a greater risk for an individual to experience symptoms synonymous with PTSD. Anxiety disorders, more specifically, are conditions that can be inherited and render a person more susceptible to PTSD following a traumatic experience.    

Physical: Individuals with a family history of certain mental illnesses could be vulnerable to the development of post traumatic stress disorder. The reason for this is due to the fact that a number of mental health conditions are caused by imbalances of certain chemicals in the brain that hinder a person’s ability to regulate emotions and impulses, of which can have a profound effect on a person’s capacity to cope with stress. When a trauma occurs, these heritable chemical imbalances could cause a person to respond to stress in an unhealthy manner and lead to the development of PTSD. Lastly, it has been realized through neuroimaging that individuals with PTSD have structural differences in their brains when compared to people who do not present with symptoms of this mental health condition.

Environmental: Influences from one’s environment significantly impact whether or not an individual will suffer from PTSD as an outside traumatic trigger is what leads to the inception of post traumatic stress disorder. Examples of such influences can include exposure to a trauma, chronic stress, neglect, or abuse. Furthermore, being bullied or being the victim of a crime can also trigger the onset of PTSD symptoms in a youth.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Having a pre-existing mental health condition
  • Lacking necessary coping skills
  • Inadequate support network
  • Being bullied
  • Being the victim of a crime
  • Experiencing the abrupt loss of a loved one
  • Exposure to trauma, abuse, and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

The event or type of trauma that led to the onset of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms can greatly affect the obviousness of signs that a young person is struggling with this mental health condition. Additionally, the age of the sufferer can impact how symptoms of PTSD present in a child or adolescent. The listed signs and symptoms may be observable and should be reported to a mental health professional when treatment is sought to alleviate post traumatic stress disorder symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Self-harm
  • Aggressive or violent outbursts
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Avoiding certain people, places, or situations that remind the child or adolescent about the trauma
  • Bed-wetting
  • Sleepwalking

Physical symptoms:

  • Flack backs about the trauma
  • Vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Trembling
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Labored breathing
  • Tense muscles
  • Nausea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Night terrors
  • Hallucinations
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling out of body
  • Feeling detached from one’s environment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Fears pertaining to impending doom
  • Ongoing sadness
  • Unprovoked anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Overall pessimistic attitude
  • Loneliness
  • Declined interest in pleasurable things or activities
  • Ongoing worry
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of PTSD

Should the symptoms of PTSD be ignored and remain present in a youth’s life, there are a number of life-altering effects that can occur. Seeking care for PTSD symptoms can significantly reduce the likelihood of the following from happening:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Acting out or rebellious behaviors
  • Development of another mental health disorder or disorders
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Ongoing feelings of worry
  • Overwhelming fear
  • Increased anxiety
  • Poor attachment with parents or caregivers
  • Experimentation or abuse of substances
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and co-occurring disorders

In the event a young person is battling symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, there is a very real possibility that that individual could suffer from another mental illness. The following disorders are examples of such mental illnesses that can affect a child or adolescent with this devastating disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

I feel so much happier and healthier after getting help at Millcreek of Pontotoc.

– A former patient