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Parents overlook children suffering from PTSD – study



A new research study has found evidence suggesting how parents are overlooking symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their kids for years.

Under a UK study, researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) focused on children who experience symptoms of PTSD within weeks to years after a traumatic event.

Researchers discovered that children who have PTSD are often overlooked by parents despite the symptoms worsening as a result of the parents’ stress towards the child’s trauma.

Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, avoiding reminders of the traumatic event, panic attacks, and insomnia.

Dr. Richard Meiser-Stedman, one of the lead researchers, explained how PTSD is not only comprised of soldiers in war zones.

“When people talk about PTSD they often think about soldiers returning from war zones. But children who experience traumatic events such as car accidents, assaults, and natural disasters are also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The primary objective for researchers was to analyze the parents’ ability to recognize these symptoms and acknowledge their child is affected by PTSD.

In doing so, researchers followed over 100 children aged between two and ten who were involved in a car accident; this included car, bike collision and being hit as a pedestrian.

In the study, all the children were taken to the hospital with a variety of injuries including fractures and loss of consciousness.

Researchers assessed the children for PTSD between two and four weeks after the traumatic incident, then again at six months, and three years, PsychCentral reported.

Standard assessments were used in diagnosing the young children with PTSD. The children over the age of seven, in addition to their parents and caregivers, were interviewed by researchers.

Researchers took intellectual ability, demographics, and parental mental health into account during the assessment.

The study’s key findings are the following.

  • Children showing signs of stress soon after a trauma will not necessarily go on to suffer PTSD after three years;
  • Some children may develop PTSD that persists for years following a trauma, but this is only likely to happen in a minority of cases. Most will “bounce back” naturally in time;
  • Most parents of children still experiencing difficulties after three years did not recognize their child’s PTSD. Relying on parent reports of PTSD may, therefore, be inadequate for identifying chronic patterns in young children;
  • Trauma severity was linked with incidence of PTSD up to six months after an accident, but not three years after;
  • A child’s intelligence and age were not linked with incidence of PTSD;
  • Children were more likely to suffer PTSD after a trauma if their parents also suffered PTSD, both soon after the event, and even three years afterward. But even these parents may not spot their child’s suffering.

The study reveals surprising information on how children and parents respond to trauma, Dr. Meiser-Stedman said.

“This study strengthens the case for considering parental mental health, and providing support for both children and their parents in the aftermath of a trauma to reduce the long-term effects for both,” he concluded.

Jose Florez is the founder of Mental Daily, a psychology blog and news aggregator. His previous work has appeared in Psychology Today, HuffPost, Glamour, Lifehack, and others.