Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a special category of psychological problems caused by personal exposure to actual or threatened death or serious injury to one’s self or others. It can be caused by learning of similar lethal or damaging things happening to parents, siblings, friends or other loved ones. Natural disasters, war, family violence, gang violence, child abuse, child sex abuse, life-threatening illnesses, etc., are all experiences that can elicit very disturbing symptoms in both children and adults.


Common symptoms of PTSD are persistent distressing recollections, dreams, illusions (misperceptions of things), and “flashbacks” or unwanted and alarming memories of the traumatic event. Victims often relive the event in startling encounters with smells, sounds, and visions that remind them of the original trauma. They persistently attempt to avoid all reminders the traumatic event and they complain of the numbing of their feelings, emotional unresponsiveness and feelings of detachment. PTSD victims often have trouble sleeping, have poor concentration, irritability, hyper-vigilance and frequently show an exaggerated startle response. They experience significant distress or impairment with symptoms lasting at least one month.

With young children, bad dreams about a traumatic event can turn into nightmares about unrelated monsters or other upsetting events. They may have night terrors, in which they become terrified in their sleep but do not recall what they were afraid of. Children often re-enact the trauma in their play with toy people (soldiers, police, criminals, etc.) and cars, planes, or boats, etc.. They may re-enact events with playmates. Children will often have a sense of foreboding about the future and may tell others that they do not expect to live very long. They may also develop physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.

PTSD symptoms normally begin within three months of a trauma and can last over 12 months

PTSD is a sneaky psychological disorder in that some children and adults may experience a traumatic event, but the display of PTSD symptoms may be delayed for 6 months, or more. It is important to remain vigilant and ready to seek professional assistance for a time well-after a child (or adult) experiences some form of trauma.

Also, those who experience a traumatic event can develop a similar, but shorter duration, psychological disorder which lasts from two days to a maximum of four weeks and starts within four weeks of the trauma. This condition also merits close professional attention and is called an Acute Stress Disorder.

There is a risk that those with PTSD can also develop other disorders that are more long-standing, such as various anxiety disorders, depression, or substance-abuse disorders and more. This is just one more reason to seek professional assistance should these symptoms occur.

A Case Study

A 17-year-old male had shown a 10 year history of hyperactivity, disruptive and oppositional behavior in school, home and other organized events. He was very irritable and explosive with his emotions. The adolescent had very few friends, was socially inappropriate, and he frightened his parents and teachers with intimidation and threats to hurt them or himself. He had been hospitalized on two occasions and had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and Bipolar disorder (a very serious form of mood swings). The outpatient therapist was able to help the parents and the boy through repeated crises, and to some extent stabilize his performance in school. However, severe problems continued to occur from time to time.

During one, particularly productive session, the 17-year-old finally revealed the details of months of physical abuse he had suffered at the hands of his mother’s  alcoholic-drug abusing boyfriend. He showed the therapist numerous wounds on his body which had healed into ugly scars. He talked about the man holding him out over a high bridge and threatening to drop him when he was a young boy.  He described how the man had repeatedly threatened to kill him with a knife to his stomach and, at other times, a gun to his head.

As the boy described these traumatic events, his hands trembled involuntarily and he sweated profusely. The teen was hospitalized again, shortly there after.

I cannot state it strongly enough. America, we must do better at protecting its children from these and many other kinds of preventable traumas.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

V. Thomas Mawhinney, 11/4/09

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2 Responses to “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

  1. Jillian Cito Says:

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | Cultural Survival Skills

    […]They might spend every week or two appearing completely unlike themselves after which return to “regular” out of the blue.[…]


    • vtmawhinney Says:

      Jillian, My best advice for anyone who is having the sort of mood instability that you are hinting at, is to schedule an evaluation by a practicing psychologist in order to have a professional assessment. Significnt PTSD symptomology is normally more consistent than what you are suggesting. Best to you, VTM


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