Signs & Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, our treatment center provides a continuum of behavioral health services ranging from sub-acute residential treatment to community-based programs for children and adolescents suffering from PTSD.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

When faced with a traumatic experience it is only natural for a child or adolescent to feel afraid, worried, and upset for a period of time. However, if a young person continues to experience extreme distress and is constantly afraid of the world around them, it may indicate the presence of a more serious problem. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that has the potential to develop after an individual has experienced a particularly traumatic event that threatens a person’s safety and places them in a state of vulnerability.

Sexual or physical abuse, parental divorce, or the loss of a close loved one all have the ability to elicit the development of this often debilitating disorder. When a young person is unable to move past a traumatic experience and develops PTSD it can lead to upheaval in practically all areas of their lives. Struggling with the symptoms of PTSD on a daily basis can affect a young person’s academic performance, ability to socially interact with others, and their ability to have an overall sense of comfort and wellbeing. This is only to name a few of the difficulties that these children may face. Additionally, children and adolescent with PTSD have an increased risk of using drugs and/or alcohol and a greater chance of developing another mental illness in the future. While PTSD can cause such strife in a young person’s life, it can be treated. Effective treatment options will help children work through their emotions surrounding the traumatic event and develop the skills needed to cope with the stressful and traumatic life experiences.


PTSD statistics

Studies have shown that between 15-43% of girls and 14-43% percent of boys will go through at least one trauma during their youth. Of those children and teens who have experienced a traumatic event, it is estimated that 3-15% of girls meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD and about 1-6% of male youth will battle symptoms of this disorder. It is evident that further research is required to gather more accurate prevalence rates, however, mental health experts believe that many children could benefit from PTSD treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

While the overall cause of post-traumatic stress disorder is experiencing a traumatic event that threatened death or serious injury, medical professionals are still unsure why some people go on to develop this disorder while others do not. However, current researchers believe that there are a number of other causes and risk factors that can make a youth more susceptible to this mental health condition. Listed below are some more in-depth explanations for possible causes of PTSD:

Genetic: It is commonly believed that the vulnerability for the development of this specific mental health condition is greater when a young person has a family history of mental illness. This is especially true in cases where one’s family members struggle with anxiety disorders.

Physical: When a trauma occurs it is possible that the structure and function of an individual’s brain get altered leading to imbalanced neurochemicals, which can cause PTSD to develop.

Environmental: The development of posttraumatic stress disorder is heavily reliant on environmental influences as experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a trauma or traumas is what triggers the onset of this mental health condition. In addition to traumatic experiences, exposure to ongoing stress, abuse, neglect, or being victimized can eventually cause a young person to display symptoms of PTSD.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health disorder
  • Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma
  • Previously experiencing a traumatic event
  • Lacking a good support system
  • Having a preexisting mental health disorder
  • Lacking appropriate coping skills
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Being bullied
  • Being the victim of a crime

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

Since every child and adolescent responds to trauma in a different way, every young person is not going to display the exact same signs and symptoms. The symptoms that your child will experience will depend upon the type of trauma experienced, their proximity to the event, their coping abilities, and the support network around them. The following symptoms can be present in a young person who is struggling with PTSD:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Aggressive or violent outbursts
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Wetting the bed
  • Sleepwalking
  • Avoiding certain people and/or places
  • Refusing to be part of situations or circumstances that remind them of the trauma
  • Intensified startle response
  • Engagement in self-harm
  • Problems in school
  • Avoids talking about the traumatic event
  • No longer participates in activities that were enjoyable

Physical symptoms:

  • Experiencing sleep disturbances
  • Labored breathing
  • Abundant sweating
  • Trembling
  • Flashbacks about the trauma
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heartbeat

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Feeling as though one is out of his or her body
  • Feeling detached from the world around them
  • Having nightmares
  • Experiences flashbacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Problems paying attention

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loneliness
  • Easily stressed or hurt emotionally
  • Sudden feeling sod sadness, guilt, or fear
  • Emotional numbness
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feeling nervous or panicked
  • Distrustful of others
  • Does not express his or her feelings
  • Ongoing worry
  • Unwarranted anger
  • Pervasive sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative disposition
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of PTSD

Any child or adolescent who is struggling with the symptoms of PTSD will only get worse if they are not properly treated as soon as possible. These potential adverse consequences have the ability to negatively impact many different aspects of a child’s life now and in the future. When symptoms of this condition persist, the following effects have been known to occur:

  • Impaired emotional development
  • Acting out behaviors
  • Development of anxiety
  • Feeling social isolated
  • Substance use
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor academic functioning
  • Legal ramification from engagement in illegal activities
  • Poor attachment with caregivers
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and co-occurring disorders

The upsetting symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder often times will lead to the development of other mental health disorders. The following are some mental health disorders that may occur with the existence of post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders

Recovery Really Is Possible

I never imagined I could live my life outside the constraints of my bipolar disease.  After my incredible stay at Desert Hills, I know I'm capable of overcoming my mental illness.

– Chrissy S.