National PTSD Awareness Month: Mental Health for Youth

PTSD Post Traumatic Stress written on the puzzle.
Written By Ramiz Audi, MD, Medical Director for Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA)

Through my role with Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA), I work with a population of children with a high prevalence of PTSD. PTSD stands for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. All ages, even children younger than six, can experience exposure to actual trauma such as physical or sexual harm, experiencing the threat of death, witnessing horrific events, seeing loved ones harmed/abused, psychological abuse and neglect. These events can activate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Signs that a child is experiencing PTSD include: 

  • Depression: Difficulty experiencing happiness or other positive emotions
  • Anxiety 
  • Increased irritable behavior and angry outburst with little provocation
  • Difficulty with concentration in school 
  • Physical symptoms of headaches and stomach aches
  • Nightmares 
  • Difficulty sleeping and eating
  • Dissociative episodes and flashbacks
  • Drug use and risky behaviors such as unhealthy sexual activity

Aside from symptoms of PTSD, children under the age of six may also exhibit other symptoms of trauma such as Reactive Attachment Disorder (difficulty with seeking comfort or responding to comfort, restriction of their affect) and/or Disinhibited Reactive Disorder (child’s tendency to be overly familiar with strangers)

Something to remember here is that kids can feel shame, guilt and fear. They can have negative thoughts about themselves such as “I can’t trust anyone” or “I’m bad”. They may eventually start to blame themselves. Depending on the age of the child at the time of the trauma, the frequency of the traumatic event and how well they know the assailant, it may be difficult to tell somebody what has happened for fear of being judged or experiencing repercussions. Their aggression is a way to regain some control over their environment and stems from feeling threatened or scared. 

For parents with children experiencing PTSD, it is important that they do not take on the role of a therapist, and only reassure their children rather than investigate their feelings. They should instead take their child to a therapist the specializes in trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy.

If a child is experiencing PTSD, parents should look for a therapist with experience with children and families that takes a relational approach and allows the child to lead the session. Then, they should ask for the child’s perspective after a session or two to see how comfortable they feel with the therapist.

In therapy, children will learn stress management and relaxation skills, how to express their feelings, and how to recognize the relationship among thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They will also go through various therapy techniques such as gradual exposure, cognitive processing of the abuse and joint-parent-child sessions.

To create a safe space at home for these children, it’s important to minimize judgement and spend quality time with them. A parent’s role is supporting the child/adolescent is helping them return to a calm state. Parents should also seek out their own support system to help hold their emotional responses to the child’s trauma. This allows the parent to be present and calm and responsive to the child’s needs.

If your child needs help with recovering from trauma, feel free to reach out to the Arizona’s Children Association: https://www.arizonaschildren.org/behavioral-health/

About Ramiz Audi, MD

Dr. Audi has years of clinical experience treating patients at inpatient units, emergency rooms and urgent cares in outpatient settings. Through his work, he has created psychiatric urgent care models for nonprofit agencies in Virginia and Arizona that help reduce recidivism of children. Currently, he is a medical director at Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA).

For 100 years, Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA) has stayed true to “Protecting Children, Empowering Youth, Strengthening Families,” serving more than 40,000 children, individuals and families in all 15 counties each year.Learn more at www.ArizonasChildren.org.

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