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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When to Seek Medical Care for PTSD continued...

Similar symptoms that begin immediately after a traumatic event and last more than two days might be considered acute stress disorder -- a condition similar to PTSD. When symptoms start weeks, months, or years after the experience and last longer than a month, it becomes PTSD.

Some World War II veterans developed PTSD 50 years after the war and only after they retired. These children of the Depression didn’t talk about their war experiences. They came home, went to work, and built families. It wasn’t until their retirement, when they were no longer responsible for keeping it together for their families, that flashbacks from combat began.

Children and PTSD

Today, children are exposed to various forms of traumatic events and violence. Natural disasters, such as tornados or earthquakes, have little potential for being personalized, so they lie on one end of this continuum. In contrast, victims of rape or torture usually face their assailants. In between are technological disasters, such as dam bursts or airplane crashes, that usually occur as the result of human error on a grand scale.

Children question whether someone is trying to hurt them. They want to know what's wrong with them. Someone they trust may betray that trust, for example, if a child is sexually abused by a parent or trusted caregiver or authority figure.

The more personal the trauma, evidence suggests, the more likely long-term psychological problems are to arise from it. Such traumas are also more likely to include elements of anger and hostility. In addition, childhood experiences such as sexual abuse may interfere with a child's development and affect him or her throughout life. For example, women who had been sexually abused as children, according to research, almost universally experienced trauma later in life as well. In contrast, women who were physically but not sexually abused as children had a rate of trauma later in life that was similar to that of people who were not physically abused.

  • Five million children are exposed to a traumatic event in the United States every year, amounting to 1.8 million new cases of PTSD. Some 36% of children who experience traumatic events develop PTSD, compared with 24% of adults. 
  • The younger a child is at the time of the trauma, the more likely he or she is to develop PTSD. Thirty-nine percent of preschoolers develop PTSD in response to trauma, while 33% of middle school children and 27% of teens do.
  • By age 18 years, one in four children has experienced a personal or community act of violence. (It is estimated that, during their lifetime, 4 million teenagers have been victims of serious physical assaults, and 9 million have witnessed an act of serious violence. More than 3 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year.) 

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