Some 80% of young people will experience a traumatic event by the time they become an adult. Rates of exposure to trauma peak during adolescence. The stress from traumatic events can result in a loss of interest in school, friends, hobbies, and life in general.
The types of traumatic events include a wide range of terrifying and life-threatening experiences such as physical or sexual assault, witnessing violence, motor vehicle and other serious accidents, and natural disasters. They may be one-off events like car accidents or prolonged as is often the case with child abuse and domestic violence.
Many young people keep their feelings hidden and try to cope with it themselves, sometimes by self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs. These young people often experience a range of difficulties at home and school.
Without identification and treatment of the underlying issues, developmental and educational trajectories can be severely disrupted, and these problems may persist into adulthood. It's estimated between 30-50% of adolescents with PTSD also abuse or are dependent on alcohol.
There are several signs parents, and teachers can look to identify young people at risk and treatment options are available.
How does trauma impact young people?
Traumatic stress and alcohol or other drug use during adolescence have been linked to a range of physical and psychological health problems, poorer performance at school and work, family and social problems, aggression, and criminal behavior.
Adolescence is a critical developmental window where a person experiences profound social, biological, and neurological changes. During this period, a person is particularly vulnerable to the impact of trauma. Trauma during adolescence has been associated with significant changes in the structure and functioning of the brain.
Adolescents who have experienced trauma have also been found to have higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, be in poorer physical health, and have difficulties with relationships with family, friends or classmates.
Increases in aggression and risk-taking behaviors are also standard. Of concern, these problems are linked with increased risk for illness and premature death in adulthood.
It's common for a young person to experience changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behavior after a traumatic event, but everyone responds differently. Some of the most common reactions to trauma are increases in feelings of fear and anxiety.
Many young people will try to avoid thinking and talking about what happened, and stay away from people, places and things that remind them of what happened. They may continuously be on-edge and on the look-out for danger. Trouble sleeping and concentrating are also common. These feelings are a reasonable response to an abnormal event.