It is estimated that one in four children will suffer a traumatic event before adulthood. This includes exposure to death, injury, violence, emotional/physical/sexual abuse, natural disasters, divorce, or separation from parents or caregivers. The occurrence(s) can be directly experienced, a witnessed event, news that a traumatic event happened to a significant other, and/or a repeated pattern of adverse exposure(s).
The effects of PTSD
Trauma negatively impacts brain development and can increase risk for behavior problems, sleep disturbances and mental health issues. When a child or adolescents’ response to the event(s) causes intrusive memories, distressing dreams, dissociation/flashbacks, intensive prolonged distress, fear reactions, depressive symptoms, and high arousal/reactivity and interferes with their functioning, an assessment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder may be warranted.
Healthcare providers can initiate conversations with children and adolescents by asking “Has anything scary or upsetting happened to you or your family since our last visit?” Then following up with “Does what happened ever bother or upset you these days?” Engaging children and families with these questions can help identify patients that may be experiencing a traumatic response. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a fact sheet to assist providers in identifying patients who may be experiencing PTSD.
Trauma symptoms can often mimic other mental health disorders, present as a comorbidity or intensify a preexisting mental health issue. Contact Illinois DocAssist consultants to assist you in managing patients with complex trauma histories. Our board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrists can assist in identifying, intervening, and treating patients with PTSD.
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