By Dr. Mar Navarro, DrBH, LPC, TAD

PTSD develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers rapid changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. These reactions protect a person from harm. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age; including children and people who have been through a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, or other serious events. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.

Signs and Symptoms

• Re-experiencing symptoms (reliving the trauma, racing heart or sweating, bad dreams, frightening thoughts)
• Avoidance symptom (avoid thoughts or feelings and staying away from places, events that are reminders of the trauma)
• Reactivity symptoms (easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge”, difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts)
• Cognition and mood symptoms (trouble remembering, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings, guilt or blame, loss of interest in enjoyable activities)

Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma and symptoms may be different from adults.

Symptoms in very young children:

• Wetting the bed
• Forgetting how to/being unable to talk
• Acting out the scary event during playtime
• Being unusually clingy

Symptoms in older children and teens:

• Symptoms are similar to those seen in adults
• Show disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors
• Feelings of guilt for not preventing injury or deaths
• Might have thoughts of revenge

RISK factors: What makes someone more likely to develop PTSD?

• Living through dangerous events and traumas
• Getting hurt, seeing others hurt, or seeing a dead body
• Childhood trauma
• Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
• Little or no social support after the event
• Extra stress after the event
• History of mental illness or substance abuse

RESILIENCY factors: What can help reduce the risk to develop PTSD?

• Having a support group
• Seeking out support from other people (friends and family)
• Learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
• Positive coping strategies
• The ability to act/respond effectively despite feeling fear

What you can do if you or someone you know experiences trauma or adversity?

• Talk to someone or your doctor about treatment options (that might include therapy, medication or both)
• Exercise to help reduce stress
• Spend time with a trusted friend or relative
• Expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately
• Identify and seek out comforting situations, places, and people.