Hidden PTSD In Teenagers

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By Naomi Moresi

Many teenagers have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and don’t even know it. What some may consider a relatively minor event or scare may actually cause PTSD. PTSD in teens can be hidden and not acknowledged. If a person doesn’t recognize their condition, they have no way to develop the mechanisms needed to cope.

PTSD is like a faulty fire alarm, constantly going off, signaling danger, when really it is just a false alarm. Humans have a natural, built-in fight or flight mechanism that is activated when our bodies sense danger. A person experiencing PTSD will have this reaction triggered even when there is no danger present. Depending on the intensity of the PTSD, these reactions will occur with varying frequency, but often several times a day. People with PTSD develop a pattern of reacting to situations where there is no need for a fight or flight response, but their bodies produce the adrenaline all the same and their minds experience the exhaustion of high-anxiety as if the situation were real.

Anyone can be affected by PTSD. If you mention PTSD, the first image that comes to mind is a war veteran who experienced the horror of combat. However, many people can develop PTSD from less severe experiences, like motor vehicle accidents. In fact, the National Center for PTSD reports that roughly 9 percent of motor vehicle accident survivors suffer from it.

As a 16-year-old ready for more independence, I spent an entire summer desperately trying to get my driver’s license. There were online tests, hours spent in cars with driving instructors and a few failed attempts at the DMV. Six days into my new-found freedom of driving, I was in a car crash and totaled both cars. This experience sent me into a spiral of PTSD that was unrecognized by myself, my family or my friends. I had anxiety every time I got into a car. Parking lots were especially hard to endure with so many near collisions. My heart would race terribly. Many mornings when I first woke up, I couldn’t remember if the car wreck was real or a dream.

Within one month of my initial accident, I was in two more minor accidents with my friends, only furthering my trauma. I stopped driving. I overreacted as a passenger. My mom finally noticed that when I was in the passenger seat, I would have a strong startle response, pretend to brake or brace myself. After I sought therapy and was given tools to cope, I was finally able to move on. However, it took months to recognize what was happening and seek help. Meanwhile, my grades suffered and I slept poorly. Not understanding what was happening, I felt bad all the time.

Self recognition and acknowledgement are important steps towards recovering from PTSD or any mental illness. Teens need to be aware of PTSD, face the challenge of self acknowledgment and seek help when needed. PTSD will not disappear on its own. Those affected need to learn the coping tactics to help them recover. Though others should not stigmatize the situation if you, yourself, can not accept your condition there is no way to progress.