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Trauma, as explained by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is the response to a “deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.” Potentially traumatic events include the following examples, provided by Healthline:

  • Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Community or school violence
  • Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence
  • National disasters or terrorism
  • Commercial sexual exploitation
  • Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Refugee or war experiences
  • Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss, or injury)
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Neglect
  • Serious accidents or life-threatening illness

Unfortunately, child trauma is not an infrequent occurrence among the adolescent population, and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two thirds of children reported experiencing at least one traumatic event by age 16. The Boston Children’s Hospital conducted a study that found sixty-one percent of young people (age 13 to 17) had been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, and nineteen percent had experienced three or more traumatic events in their lifetime. 

Signs and Symptoms

Often, teenagers who are affected by traumatic events do not recognize their symptoms. Additionally, it can be difficult to distinguish between typical teenage behaviors and an indication that something may be awry. Common reactions, warning signs, and general symptoms that are typical for children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events include, but are not limited to, the following examples:

  • Regressed behaviors.
  • Mood alterations such as irritability, sadness, anger, etc.
  • Academic decline.
  • Self-imposed social isolation.
  • Pervasive and intrusive thoughts or unwanted imagery from the traumatic event.
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns.
  • Depression.
  • Cognitive decline, including difficulties with short-term memory, concentration, and problem solving.
  • Irrational reactions to minor irritations.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed pastimes, (e.g., school, friends, hobbies, etc.).
  • Diminished personal hygiene practices.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Decreased motivation.
  • Neglect responsibilities (e.g., miss school, fail to honor previously made commitments, etc.).

Experiencing trauma can interfere with a teenager’s cognitive and social development making them more likely to engage in risky, dangerous behaviors. Every teenager is different, and each teen trauma survivor has the propensity to exhibit a unique combination of signs and symptoms. Exposure to adolescent trauma increases one’s risk of unwanted long-term physiological complications that may not manifest until adulthood. These adverse health effects include maladaptive coping skills, poor stress management, unhealthy lifestyles, mental illness, and physical disease.

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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