Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition often associated with military veterans. While it is true that certain demographics of trauma survivors (such as military service members) experience higher rates of PTSD, it can occur in individuals of any age or occupation who suffer trauma, including children. Studies show that up to 43 percent of youth experience at least one trauma. “PTSD is caused by a traumatic event where a person perceives great risk to their safety or to the safety of a loved one,” said Christina Palazzo, MS, LPC-S, outpatient therapist with Canopy Children’s Solutions. “The exposure to trauma then overstimulates the ‘fight or flight’ reaction which can exaggerate the body’s future reaction to stress and can alter the way ‘threats’ are perceived.”
While two people can go through the exact same experience, their perceptions are different and therefore their reactions are often different as well. When a situation becomes traumatic, it means it has reached beyond a person’s threshold to cope with the immediate circumstances. Many PTSD cases are tied to single events such as a natural disaster, violent event (such as a rape or mass shooting), a car crash or the death of a loved one. Extended exposure to things like a prolonged illness, abuse, or neglect can also cause trauma. Potential signs of PTSD include nightmares or “reliving” traumatic events, isolation from others, exaggerated startle reflex, changes in sleep and appetite, intense emotions including extreme fear and worry. Trauma creates a psychological and physiological change in the person’s brain and the way it perceives the world around them.
“Because trauma changes the brain physically, individuals with PTSD may experience intense emotional responses when they encounter something that reminds them of the traumatic event, says Palazzo. “In therapy, we work to change the thoughts that lead to uncomfortable feelings. We also work on coping skills such as relaxation and regulating emotions to help relieve the exaggerated stress response.”
COVID-19 has been a traumatic experience for many. Loss of life, fear of getting sick (or a loved one getting sick), parental unemployment, abuse, or not having adequate essentials are just a few of the ways children and their families are being affected. Having open and honest conversations about COVID-19 and changes your family may be experiencing are ways to help your child understand and cope. It’s also important to reassure them of their safety and practice self-care to relieve stress. A few suggestions include:
- Outdoor exercise
- Crafting, painting or journaling
- Listening to music
- Talking with family, a friend, or professional counselor
While the reactions of a person with PTSD can be difficult to handle, it’s important to understand it is part of the body’s natural defense. What is traumatic to one person isn’t necessarily traumatic to another and everyone’s response to trauma looks different. Be patient and be sure any loved one experiencing symptoms following a traumatic event receives the support and professional help they need.
June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month. Learn from the National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml.
Canopy Children’s Solutions (Canopy) offers an array of behavioral health, educational and social service solutions to children and families throughout Mississippi. For more information about solutions offered through Canopy, please visit mycanopy.org or call 800-388-6247.