The number of children in the United States who experience trauma is growing at an alarming rate. In a survey of over 10,000 teenagers from 13 to 18 years old, about five percent meet post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) criteria. Within that percentage, there are more than double the number of girls than boys who have PTSD.
Teenage girls are a high-risk group for experiencing trauma and having trauma reactions that impact them long-term. Understanding how PTSD develops and what factors cause it can help parents, families, and institutions enact preventative measures and proper care guidelines for teenage girls.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD occurs when someone experiences an event that threatens their life, risks harm, or repeatedly damages their mental or emotional well-being. The response to such an experience is feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror. These responses don’t disappear when the moment ends but continue long after the incident has passed.
PTSD is primarily discussed as related to soldiers in combat, but children and adolescents can also experience traumatic events. These can range in specifics and severity from accidents to abuse to natural disasters.
Symptoms of PTSD in Teenage Girls
PTSD symptoms that teenage girls experience don’t generally mimic those of a soldier. These girls will often relive their trauma through intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and memories. Not only have they survived something life-altering, but they must now constantly avoid the reemergence of those painful feelings and thoughts.
The symptoms of PTSD in teenage girls can be subtle, and teens often try to hide their trauma or pain, making it challenging to identify, diagnose, and treat.
Some common signs of PTSD are irritability, hypervigilance, an exaggerated startle response, and sleeping troubles. Some teens may experience persistent fear and flashbacks more intensely, leading to avoidance and anxiety. Unfortunately, these negative and often overpowering emotions can lead to poor coping methods. Teenagers may take more risks and avoid creating healthy bonds with others.
Other symptoms of PTSD include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Anger, hostility, and aggression
- Sexually inappropriate behavior
- Self-destructive behavior
- Isolation and shame
- Poor self-esteem
- Lack of trust
- Substance abuse
Prolonged anxiety and mood disorders can evolve from PTSD. Depression, disassociation, and compulsive behaviors can arise from PTSD in teenagers. Although these are all treatable, it is still vital for parents and caregivers to understand what puts girls at risk for such problems to be vigilant with their care and attention.
PTSD Risk Factors in Teenage Girls
The formation of PTSD for teenage girls often depends on the severity of their trauma, the significance of the traumatic event, their parent or guardian’s reaction to the traumatic event, and how recently it happened. Additionally, sexual assault or abuse tends to be more likely to result in PTSD than other traumas. As teen girls are more at risk for this type of violence than teen boys, it tracks with the higher rate at which teenage girls experience PTSD.
Other factors that impact the likelihood of a girl developing PTSD in her lifetime are:
A child or teen exposed to unstable or dangerous family life is more likely to experience stressful events. A parent with a mental health disorder, substance abuse disorder, or criminal history has an increased risk of trauma exposure. Children in foster care with a constant unknown factor regarding their home or placement are also at greater risk for experiencing trauma and PTSD as a result.
Parents have a massive impact on the likelihood and intensity of PTSD symptoms in teens. With proper support and trauma-informed care, this relationship can immensely improve the survivor’s mental health. Whether in terms of preventing trauma or coping with the aftermath, family support usually equals less distress.
Homeless youth may be at the greatest risk of experiencing trauma. They are often victims of repetitive and intense forms of violence and abuse. When this abuse is caused by a parent or family member and the child feels they must leave their home to cope, they are at risk for continued neglect, abuse, and violence, not to mention the constant worry over food and shelter that comes with homelessness.
Deviant siblings with criminal histories, aggression, or substance abuse tendencies also put teenage girls at risk for developing PTSD. Whether they are a direct victim of abuse from that sibling or adjacent to it through exposure, these conflicts within the family can lead to PTSD.
Teens are experiencing more stress now than ever before. The increased regularity of public traumatic events like illness, war, death, and other impactful and historically-significant moments all play a role in the chance of developing PTSD. Similarly, we live in a time where much is demanded of teens in academics, extracurriculars, social media portrayal, and much more. These can all combine to create stress, trauma, and PTSD.
Teenage girls may not be the first group that comes to mind when considering those with PTSD, but risk factors are many for this demographic. A teenage girl in an unstable environment exposed to violence, abuse, or neglect, is more likely to develop trauma symptoms that impact the rest of her life. Families and institutions should develop an understanding of PTSD symptoms in teens and the factors that cause them in an effort to prevent such experiences better. Once a teenager has experienced trauma and begins showing signs of PTSD, resources are present that offer necessary treatment, therapies, and support. At Havenwood Academy, we work exclusively with young women and girls to help them recover from trauma and rebuild their confidence and mental wellness while setting them up for success. Learn about our financial resources for treatment by calling us at (435) 586-2500 today.
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