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PTSD and Childhood Trauma: Common Causes and Symptoms

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — June 12, 2019 — 2 min read
Trauma can come in many forms including witnessing violence or mass violence, but it can also stem from maltreatment. Trauma experienced as a child can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which generally develops within six months of the initial event.

There were 2.4 million reports of maltreatment of children in the United States, according to the Child Maltreatment 2017 report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Approximately 674,000 children were found to be the victims of abuse and neglect. Of those reports, 74.9 percent involved neglect and 18.3 percent involved physical abuse.

There are several factors that determine whether a child victim will develop PTSD. Some of the factors include relationship of the child to their abuser, how old/intellectually developed the child is and the perceived level of personal threat.

A child’s physical response to abuse can also play a role – this is really the only determinant to whether a person develops PTSD. An increased heart rate post-abuse has been shown to indicate an increased likelihood that the victim will later suffer from PTSD.

Symptoms of childhood PTSD are:
  • Frequent memories and/or talk of the traumatic event(s)
  • Nightmares
  • Repeated physical or emotional symptoms whenever the child is confronted with the event
  • Fear of dying
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Regular physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Extreme emotional reactions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability, anger, violence
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Constant or often clingy or whiny behavior and regression to a younger age
  • Increased vigilance or alertness to their environment
As a child becomes an adult, the PTSD symptoms ca mimic other disorders such as depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, and substance use disorder.

If you or a family member needs help, call the Cardinal Innovations Access Line at 1-800-939-5911. This line operates 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.     

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Psychologist Dawn O’Malley contributed to this article.
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