Caden was 17 years old when his father brought him to see me at the request of their family physician. Caden and his dad explained that Caden had been in a car accident. He was driving and two of his friends with him were killed. At first, Caden just “seemed like he was in shock. Like numb or something. But after several weeks, he started having really intense nightmares and didn’t want to leave the house,” his dad said. Caden explained, very quietly, that he had not been able to convince himself to drive since the accident and that every time he got into a car he would “freak out.” When I asked him what he meant by this, he said his heart would start hammering in his chest, his palms would sweat, his breath would speed up and he saw the crash happening in his mind, over and over again. His dad also noted that Caden had stopped eating much and had lost weight, although neither were sure quite how much.
Caden explained how he could no longer watch television, for fear that there would be a car on TV which might trigger another “freak out.” He didn’t talk to his friends as he was certain they all hated him. He hadn’t slept through the night in over a month because of intense nightmares, usually about the car crash but sometimes about other situations in which he and his friends or family were in imminent danger.
Caden’s symptoms were a clear sign that he had developed post traumatic stress disorder after the car crash. He was surprised to hear that this condition affects more than just war veterans and was relieved that there were medications and therapy that could help him. He worked hard in therapy, and took medication that helped calm his symptoms down and helped improve his sleep and appetite. Over time, Caden felt much more like himself. He actually started a support group for other kids who were experiencing PTSD and is now in college working to become a therapist so he can continue helping others. “I would never choose to go back and have the accident again and I’d give anything to have my two friends back, but I feel like I’m honoring their memories and, sort of, turning lemons into lemonade by using my life to help others.”
Facts About Adolescent PTSD
- The symptoms of PTSD may last from several months to several years.
- Medication can be helpful to deal with agitation, anxiety, or depression.
- Individual, group, or family therapy, behavioral therapy, trauma focused therapy, art therapy, play therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can all be very useful in recovering from PTSD.
- One in eight children suffer trauma that leads to significant impairments in their mental and physical wellbeing.