Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. Examples of traumatic events includes, but are not limited to, physical abuse, sexual abuse, vehicular accidents, bombings, and natural disasters. Not every child who experiences or witnesses traumatic events will develop PTSD. Following traumatic events, it is normal to feel fearful, sad, or nervous. Although many children with recover from these feelings in a short time, these feelings persist for other children who may develop PTSD. PTSD is characterized by re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, emotional numbness or avoidance of people, places, or activities that remind one of the trauma, and increased arousal or hypervigilance. These symptoms persist for at least one month. Although these symptoms usually develop within three months of the traumatic event, they may not appear until several months or even years after the traumatic event. For some youth, PTSD can become chronic.
Children who appear most at risk for PTSD are females, those who directly witnessed the traumatic event or were in greater proximity to trauma, those who suffered directly, those exposed to traumas with higher death tools, youth with high perceived threat, youth without strong social support networks, and youth who experienced greater amounts of distress at the time of the trauma.
- Furr, J. M., Comer, J. S., Edmunds, J. M., & Kendall, P. C. (2010). Disasters and youth: A meta-analytic examination of posttraumatic stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 765-780.
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- Perrin, S., Smith, P., & Yule, W. (2000). Practitioner review: The assessment and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 277-289.