Understanding the Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Teens

According to a recent study conducted by King’s College, London (UK), at least 1 in 13 teenagers will experience PTSD. This shocking figure represents roughly 8 percent of the population, making PTSD one of the more common mental health issues of the modern era.

According to one of the authors of the study, Andrea Danese, “Trauma is really a public health concern, it is very prevalent.” However, Danese then goes on to explain that, even when healthcare is readily available, only a small fraction of these individuals will go on to receive the mental health treatments they need to recover.

PTSD—which stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—is likely one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions in the Western World. Many individuals, even some of those who are actively suffering from it, have no idea that this condition even exists. Others may have a vague idea but fail to recognize how common the condition is among people they interact with on an everyday basis.

In this article, we will attempt to discuss the most important things for you to know about the development of PTSD in teenagers. We will also discuss some of the ways that you, as a parent, can have a positive impact on those who are affected. By educating yourself about this condition and further learning about some of its remedies, you can make a major difference.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health disorder that, broadly, can develop following an individual’s exposure to traumatic events. There are many different events that can trigger the onset of PTSD and these events may impact one person much differently than they impact another.

PTSD is much different than the feeling of being “shaken up” that most people experience after a car crash or other near-death experiences. While this shaken feeling will normally subside in a day or two, individuals suffering from PTSD will experience this feeling into the perpetual future. Even when there is no external threat present, individuals who are suffering from PTSD may feel anxious, physically distressed, and unable to deal with the outside world.

Some people who have PTSD can go from behaving normally to quickly being “triggered” by external stimuli. For example, an individual who has developed PTSD as a consequence of verbal abuse may have a much more sensitive “fight or flight” response whenever they hear someone yelling (even if the yelling isn’t directed at them). In order to overcome PTSD and avoid its many complications, it is important for treatment to begin early on.

What are the symptoms of PTSD? 

Only a licensed physician can diagnose the presence of PTSD—even if it seems “obvious” that someone may have this condition, it is still a good idea to meet with a doctor in order to ensure there is not a related or another mental condition at play.
  • PTSD has several notable symptoms:
  • Disturbing thoughts, feelings, and dreams following a traumatic event
  • Active mental or physical distress without a clear external cause
  • Patterns of self-harm and attempted suicide
  • Increased sensitivity, sudden violence, and the need to retreat from otherwise mundane situations
  • Resistance to developing relationships or becoming close with others (especially if the PTSD is a result of sexual violence)
  • Substance abuse disorders
Many individuals with PTSD will begin abusing substances in order to cope with, deflect, or “numb” the intensity of their experiences. When this is the case, most clinics will use a practice known as dual diagnosis in order to develop more effective treatment options.

Typically, PTSD will not be diagnosed until the symptoms above have persisted for at least one month. However, if your teen has begun to demonstrate any of the symptoms mentioned above, you may want to consider getting professional help.

What events can trigger PTSD?

PTSD is a very subjective condition. Multiple individuals can be exposed to the same traumatic event (witnessing a terror attack, for example) and while some individuals will rebound from this event quickly, others will be traumatized for many years to come.

Some of the most common triggers of PTSD include:
  • Rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual violence
  • Verbal and physical abuse (especially if sustained over time)
  • Exposure to violence, war, terror, death, and other related events
  • Traffic collisions and various “near death” experiences
  • Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, fires, floods, and other natural disasters
  • Events that are clearly linked to pain or the loss of a loved one
It is also possible for individuals to develop PTSD in response to events that, to an outsider, do not appear particularly “traumatic” at all. In order to develop an effective treatment plan, it will be absolutely critical to identify all relevant triggers, related conditions, and underlying causes.

What is the difference between “ordinary” PTSD and Complex PTSD?

Most cases of PTSD are a result of a single, traumatic event. However, some cases emerge as a result of prolonged exposure to trauma. For example, if a parent is consistently verbally abusive to their teen, the development of PTSD may not be attributable to a single thing the parent said or even a single period of time. When PTSD-like symptoms persist after prolonged periods of exposure to trauma, this is known as Complex PTSD.

There are many different things that can trigger the onset of Complex PTSD. Consistent exposure to abuse (verbal, physical, sexual, etc.), childhood neglect, and living in an area with high rates of violence or war can all cause complex PTSD to begin to set in.

Complex PTSD can result in a unique set of complications that may not be associated with ordinary PTSD. A general inability to trust others, a consistently negative world view, and hyperarousal (continuously being on “high alert”) are just a few of the behaviors you might notice in someone whose been affected. Because many of these symptoms are ongoing and deeply rooted, they may require more intensive treatment options in order to be properly addressed.

What are the best treatment options for teens with PTSD? 

Because PTSD affects a remarkable 8 percent of teenagers, there has been an ongoing search for effective treatment options. Some of the most common PTSD treatment options you’ll find include:
  • Medication: most PTSD medications feature a selective serotonin uptake inhibitor, though this may vary if there are other medications or mental health issues at play.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): this form of individual therapy focuses on addressing underlying issues, knowing how to recognize triggers, and developing healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Group Therapy: this form of therapy makes it possible for teens to bond and gain perspective from others with similar experiences.
  • Experiential Treatment: having a productive outlet—exercise, art, music, writing, etc.—can help victims of PTSD express themselves and display their emotions in a positive way.
  • Residential Treatment Centers: these intensive treatment centers offer a wide range of personalized treatments. RTCs are ideal for individuals experiencing the more severe effects of PTSD , such as suicide ideation. They are also common for teens who are suffering from PTSD alongside a substance abuse disorder (co-occurring conditions).
By being proactive and seeking treatment in advance, the probability of a successful recovery significantly improves.


The relative commonness of PTSD has pushed this condition to the forefront of many critical healthcare debates. PTSD is a consequence of sudden or prolonged exposure to trauma. While overcoming this particular condition can be incredibly challenging for some, there is still plenty of reason for parents everywhere to have hope.