Causes & Effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

No one experiences PTSD the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of PTSD is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

When a young person endures a trauma, sometimes the outcome is the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Commonly referred to as PTSD, this mental health condition can manifest after an individual learns about, witnesses, or experiences a trauma firsthand. Vivid flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories about the trauma often occur when a person is battling PTSD. Additionally, posttraumatic stress disorder can cause an individual to experience elevated levels of anxiety, act out aggressively, and have frequent thoughts and worries that doom is impending.

Allowing symptoms of PTSD to remain untreated could elicit a number of problems and obstacles for young people who are grappling with this condition. Academic performance, healthy social interactions, and a youth’s overall mental health are at stake when this illness is a factor in a child or adolescent’s life. Additionally, those who meet diagnostic criteria for this disorder are susceptible to developing other mental health concerns and/or a substance abuse problem if care is not sought.

However, what is important to know is that these outcomes can, in fact, be prevented through treatment that is designed to alleviate PTSD symptoms and teach young people new and appropriate skills for coping with stress. Such care can be accessed and initiated by parents and caregivers who recognize the signs of PTSD in their child so that this mental health condition does not develop to a degree that it affects a child’s entire life.


PTSD statistics

The prevalence rates of posttraumatic stress disorder among young people are skewed as many children and adolescents do not receive care for this condition. Other studies, however, believe that PTSD is a mental health condition that affects more female youth than male youth. Among female children and adolescents, it is believed that 3 to 15% of girls grapple with symptoms of PTSD. Comparatively, 1 to 6% of male children and adolescents meet diagnostic criteria for this serious mental illness.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

There are several causes and risk factors for PTSD that are widely agreed upon by experts in the field of mental health. Consider the following explanations for posttraumatic stress disorder’s origins:

Genetic: While posttraumatic stress disorder is not likely to be inherited from one’s biological parents, it is likely for other mental health conditions to be passed down from one generation to the next. Certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, are heritable and can increase a person’s vulnerability to developing PTSD following a trauma or traumas.  

Physical: When a person develops PTSD, brain chemistry can be altered. Especially in those that have a preexisting mental illness, the symptoms of PTSD can cause imbalances of, or further imbalance, certain chemicals in the brain that are designed to manage emotions, impulses, and responses to external stimuli. These chemical imbalances can cause a person to have an exacerbated startle response and experience increased levels of anxiety. Furthermore, when an individual experiences, witnesses, or learns about a severe trauma, certain structural changes are known to occur within the brain.

Environmental: Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is directly triggered by an environmental influence, i.e., a trauma. The susceptibility of this condition, however, can be dependent on whether or not an individual has a personal history of other environmental influences or circumstances that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing PTSD following a trauma. Examples of such influences can include a personal history of being bullied, being the victim of a crime, being subjected to abuse and/or neglect, or experiencing the sudden loss of a friend or loved one.   

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • History of experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a trauma or traumas
  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental illnesses
  • Having a preexisting mental health disorder(s)
  • Underdeveloped coping skills
  • Insufficient support network
  • Being bullied
  • Being the victim of a crime
  • Experiencing the abrupt loss of a loved one
  • History of abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

Depending on the severity of the triggering trauma that led to the development of PTSD, the signs and symptoms of this disorder can be vast. Additionally, the sufferer’s age also has the capacity to impact the obviousness of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. If you notice your child presenting with any of the following behavioral, physical, cognitive, or psychosocial symptoms, it is crucial that you consider seeking treatment for your child:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Bedwetting
  • Sleepwalking
  • Self-harm
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Aggressive or violent outbursts
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Avoiding certain people, places, or situations reminiscent of the trauma

Physical symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Labored breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Trembling
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Panic attacks
  • Flashbacks about the trauma
  • Increased heartbeat

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling out of body
  • Night terrors
  • Hallucinations
  • Feeling detached from one’s surroundings

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Declined interest in pleasurable things or activities
  • Ongoing worry
  • Unprovoked anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Emotional detachment
  • Fears pertaining to impending doom
  • Ongoing sadness
  • Overall pessimistic attitude
  • Loneliness


Effects of PTSD

If treatment is not implemented to alleviate the symptoms the posttraumatic stress disorder, there are a number of life-altering effects that can occur. With specific regards to young people who battle this condition, the following are probable if symptoms of this illness remain present in a young person’s life:

  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Poor attachment with parents or caregivers
  • Experimentation or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Low self-esteem
  • Acting out behaviors
  • Development of another mental health condition or conditions
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Ongoing feelings of worry
  • Overwhelming fear
  • Increased anxiety

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and co-occurring disorders

Because the symptoms of PTSD can be extremely distressing, it is common for an additional mental health condition or condition to develop when this mental illness is a factor in a young person’s life. The listed disorders are examples of such conditions that have the possibility of occurring alongside a posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders
What Past Clients Say

I now know that the underlying cause of my drinking and partying is because of my past trauma, which I tried to pretend never happened. DBI helped me face that trauma head-on and now I'm making better decisions and am happier than I thought possible.

– A former client