Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Many children and young people are exposed to traumatic events in their lives, and some go on to develop difficulties because of this.

A traumatic event can be anything that causes the child to feel that their life or wellbeing (or someone else's) is in danger. For example, witnessing or being in an accident can feel terrifying, and our usual coping strategies might not seem to work.

This can lead us to feel overwhelmed and unable to make sense out of what has happened. Being hit by someone, or told that you are worthless or useless, or perhaps witnessing this happening to someone else (like a parent or sibling) could cause you to feel traumatised too. A traumatic event can be a one-off, like a car crash, or it might be caused by things that happen repeatedly, like being bullied at school or abused at home.

Symptoms of PTSD

If we experience trauma, we may go on to develop signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These difficulties need to be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional, after detailed assessment and careful thinking. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, in shock and confused, which might lead to trouble thinking clearly
  • Feeling responsible for what happened, even if others say it wasn't our fault. This can lead us to feeling ashamed and make it harder to talk to others about our experiences
  • Feeling very anxious and hyper-aware of danger. Some people might feel extremely sensitive to sounds, smells and sights that remind them in some way of the traumatic event
  • Younger children can become more clingy, might backtrack in their development after a frightening event, eg they might start bed wetting after having been dry at night, and they might seem distracted or not interested in their usual activities, like playing with friends
  • People often try to avoid reminders of the event, including trying not to think about it and avoiding going to places where traumatic things have happened
  • Sometimes people will have nightmares about the event, and sometimes have flashbacks where images, sights, sounds and other sensations appear suddenly

All of these experiences can be exhausting, causing you to feel miserable. Often people with PTSD experience low mood at the same time, feeling hopeless about the possibility of feeling any better in the future.

How can CAMHS help?

Sometimes people make a full recovery themselves, but often people need some help with this. There are several ways that the CAMHS team might be able to help:

  • Help you understand trauma and how it is affecting you (knowledge is power!)
  • Make sure that you are safe now. If there are things happening in your life now that are putting you in any danger, we will work with other professionals such as Social Workers, to make sure you are as safe as possible.
  • Offer you individual therapy such as trauma focused cognitive behaviour therapy, EMDR or art psychotherapy, with the aim of helping to make sense of your experiences and work towards recovery – find out more about these treatments in How do we Help?
  • Sometimes people take medication to support their recovery
  • We might work with members of your family, if needed.

More information

Young Minds - advice and information about PTSD

NHS - detailed information about PTSD and treatments

MindEd - free educational resource that includes training on PTSD