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Recognizing and Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder in which an individual faces trouble recovering from a stressful or traumatic event. The event could be either experienced or witnessed. PTSD is a historically misunderstood disorder, it is prominent in war veterans and was named “shell-shock” for veterans. Limiting PTSD to a disorder that can only affect war veterans is damming to the millions of people who silently suffer through this disorder as well as children who experience PTSD.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. Three ethnic groups – U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians – are disproportionately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.

What Constitutes A Traumatic Event?

Any event that poses a threat to an individual. The event is usually frightening or dangerous and causes the individual to feel unsafe. These events cause strong emotions and even physical reactions long after the traumatic event has occurred. Reactions to negative stimuli can differ for individuals based on the event, age, and mental state and should not be categorized into limitations of what reactions can look like. Some reactions may include but are not limited to:

  • Terror, helplessness, fear
  • Physiological reactions
    • Heart pounding, vomiting, loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Intrusive memories
    • Flashbacks, upsetting dreams
  • Avoidance of places, activities, or people that remind the individual of the traumatic event
  • Negative changes thoughts and mood
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of interest in activities that the individual once enjoyed
  • Feeling emotionally numb

 

What Are Some Potentially Traumatic Events?

  • Personal or familial substance use disorder
  • Life-threatening illness or accidents
  • Family or community violence
  • Sudden loss of loved one
  • Military-related stressors
    • Deployment, loss, or injury of loved one

 

What is Child Traumatic Stress?

Children are not immune to the effects of a traumatic event and repeated childhood exposure to traumatic events can have long-term effects on children. According to the study “Identification of Trauma Exposure and PTSD in Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatients: An Exploratory Study,” “youth diagnosed with PTSD are more likely to have (a) higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms; (b) high degrees of comorbidity with other mental health disorders; (c) engage in high-risk (e.g., running away), self-harming, or delinquent behaviors; and (d) evidence poorer functioning relative to youth without PTSD.” Additionally, they’re more likely to grow up participating in health-risk behaviors, including substance abuse, self-harm, and eating disorders.

Risk Protective Factors

When children experience a traumatic event, they don’t necessarily develop traumatic stress. There are risk factors as well as protective factors that play into the adverse impact of trauma. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • The Severity of the event
    • Were the police involved? Was there a death of a loved one? 
  • Proximity to the event
    • Was the child in the place the event occurred?
    • Did they witness the event happen?
  • Caregiver’s reactions
    • Were the child’s caregivers supportive?
  • Prior history of trauma
    • Has the child been exposed to traumatic events before?
  • Family and community factors
    • The child’s cultural background and resources act as a buffer against the harmful effects of trauma.

 

Working Through Trauma at CORRAL

85 percent of CORRAL’s girls have experienced trauma and as a result, suffer from heightened anxiety and hypervigilance. By creating a supportive environment and relationship, structure and routine, our girls are able to work through their trauma and triggers as they arise in a safe place. We teach them to scale their emotions, scale their level of control of the situation and the appropriate coping skills and mechanisms needed to safely process, work through and heal their traumas.

Among the risk factors listed above for trauma is the pervasive influence of systemic racism. As members of a marginalized population, young people of color are statistically more likely to have negative health, academic and economic outcomes. Understanding this context, CORRAL bears the same responsibility to heal the trauma our girls have experienced due to systemic racism just as much as more commonly understood forms of trauma ie. physical or emotional abuse.

 

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