PTSD Affects Children More Than Adults


PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur after any traumatic experience including military combat, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, sexual assault, or even a severe accident. The choices adults make affect children on a daily basis. Choosing to violate children by creating an atmosphere of fear in a child, or the choice to not work through an individual’s own PTSD will have a significant effect on children’s lives. These choices can lead to rising incidences of the disorder in children and makes the  nation’s children more susceptible to the negative effects of PTSD than adults.

As in adults, children can develop PTSD either through surviving physical harm from adults, nature, or other accidents. They can also experience it after witnessing violence against others in their families or communities. It is important to note that while war is a major cause of PTSD in adults, children do not have to be part of a war-torn country to be diagnosed with the disorder. Studies have shown that five percent of adolescents aged 13-18 have met the criteria for PTSD. The percentage of children diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress is higher in girls than in boys, just as it is with adults. As of January 2014, there have not been any significant studies done on percentages in younger children.

In adults, about 60 percent of men and about 50 percent of women have gone through at least one traumatic experience. Out of those, only seven to eight percent will develop signs of PTSD. Of those, about 10 percent will be men and five percent will be women.

Data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs states that between 11-20 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars came home with PTSD. This represents an increase from the 10 percent thought to suffer from it after Desert Storm. Although these statistics are down from the Vietnam War, which predicted 30 percent of soldiers suffered from it after that conflict.

Flashbacks and traumatic memories have negative effects not just on the person experiencing them but also on their families, which is why children are affected more than the adults in their lives when PTSD is involved. Not saying that the feelings are not traumatic or real, children relive these experiences with their families repeatedly. Based on how it can develop and is triggered in people, the re-experiencing of symptoms can lead to PTSD development in children.

Children will need just as much emotional and professional help dealing with their own PTSD, as they would with that of a family member who is suffering from the disorder. It is important that their needs are met. Overlooking their needs through this process will be just as detrimental as ignoring the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in a family member.

PTSD affects the entire family. Children are not always able to express themselves, and so special attention should be paid to their reactions to the symptoms experienced in their home. Knowledge is power, so it is important to teach them about the disorder including what it is, what it is not, and what can cause it. Depending on their age, some information will be too much and determine how much they can be told. Parents should use their best judgment in what to share with their kids. Between the possibilities of their own symptoms from being witnesses to traumatic events to dealing with the PTSD symptoms of others, children are affected in many ways–sometimes more than the adults in their lives realize.

By Sara Kourtsounis

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (PTSD in Children and Adolescents)
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs(How Common is PTSD?)
Kids Health
National Institute of Mental Health

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