Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

All children may experience very stressful situations that affect the way they think and feel. Most of the time, children recover quickly. However, sometimes children who experience intense stress—such as in cases of injury, death or possible death of a family member or close friend, or violence—will be affected in the long run. The child may experience this trauma directly or may witness something happening to someone else. When a child has long-term symptoms (lasting more than a month) and the continued stress makes them feel bad or interferes with their relationships and activities, they may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Examples of PTSD symptoms include the following:

• Relive the situation over and over again in thought or in play.

• Having nightmares and trouble sleeping.

• Feel very bad when something remembers the situation.

• Lack of positive emotions.

• Feeling fear or sadness continuously and intensely.

• Irritability and fits of rage.

• Constantly look for potential threats; get scared easily.

• Appear helpless, hopeless or withdrawn.

• Deny that the situation happened or not show feelings.

• Avoid places or people associated with the situation.

Examples of situations that could cause PTSD include the following:

• Physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

• Being a victim or witness of violence or a crime.

• Serious illness or death of a family member or close friend.

• Natural or human-made disasters.

• Serious car accidents.

Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The first step in treatment is to speak with a health care provider for an evaluation. For a diagnosis of PTSD to be made, a specific event must have triggered the symptoms. Because the situation was distressing, children may not want to talk about the event, so a highly trained health care provider may be needed to talk with children and their families. Once the diagnosis is made, the first step is to make the child feel safe through the support of parents, friends, and school, and, to the extent possible, by decreasing the likelihood of another traumatic event occurring. Psychotherapy—in which the child can talk, draw, play, or write about the stressful event—can be done with the child individually, with the family, or in a group. Behavior therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, helps children learn to change thoughts and feelings by first changing their behavior to reduce fear or worry. Medications may also be used to lessen symptoms.

If you or someone you know has recently experienced a traumatic event, you can find a list of English-speaking healthcare providers en the ESHA Spain business directory

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