Last updated: 4 January 2021
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety that is experienced by people who have been exposed to traumatic events. It is a common mental health condition, that can affect people of all ages, including children and young people.
Following exposure to a traumatic event (e.g. witnessing a severe accident) it is normal for people to feel disturbed by the incident and have some difficulties, such as nightmares and low mood. This is known as an acute stress reaction and it usually disappears after some weeks.
For some people, these difficulties can be more severe and persist over time, lasting longer than one month. This is a sign that they could be suffering from PTSD.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
People who repeatedly experience traumatic situations, such as severe neglect, abuse or violence, may be diagnosed with complex PTSD.
Complex PTSD can cause similar symptoms to PTSD and may not develop until years after the event. It’s often more severe if the trauma was experienced early in life, as this can affect a child’s development.
Causes of PTSD
There are many traumatic situations or events that can cause a child or young person to develop PTSD. Some people might find some events more traumatic than others. Examples of traumatic events include:
Serious car accidents
Physical or sexual abuse
Being attacked, kidnapped or held hostage
Witnessing or being involved in domestic abuse
Surviving war or natural disasters
Witnessing or being involved in torture
Witnessing death, or the deceased
Learning that someone close to you has been affected by trauma (known as secondary trauma)
Not all exposure to distressing events will cause a person to develop PTSD. But there are some risk factors that can make this more likely to happen. This includes:
Being a child or young person
If the trauma was a physical assault or rape in nature
Having experienced previous traumas
Experiencing many stressors at the same time
Having a history of mental health disorders
Being a child with a lack of support from family members
Being a child of parents with mental health difficulties