Questions & Answers

If a child's parents separate or divorce, would the child react with PTSD?

A divorce is certainly stressful and the emotional health of the child should be considered, but divorce would not be considered a life-threatening traumatic event, and thus the child would not be at particular risk for developing PTSD. Divorce, however, may increase the risk of PTSD for some children exposed to traumatic events.

If a child's parent or close relative dies, would the child suffer from PTSD?

A grief response is different from a PTSD response. Grief responses may include intrusive thoughts about the person who died or sadness about activities associated with that person, but grief responses are usually worked through with time. Childhood traumatic grief is a separate condition in which traumatic thoughts and images interfere with the ability to enjoy positive memories and accomplish typical bereavement tasks.

What type of trauma most often leads to PTSD?

Children who have witnessed an act of violence or whose family member has been reported missing or injured, who have been the victim of a criminal act, such as abuses or physical or sexual assault, are at a higher risk than those who experienced a natural disaster. This is possibly due to the fact that the violence seems, and often is, intentional in comparison to an unpredictable natural event.

What is the most common age for a child to develop PTSD?

Children under the age of 11 are more vulnerable to developing PTSD. However, it is difficult to diagnose in very young children who have less developed language. Therefore they cannot describe their internal state well or report on whether they are having intrusive thoughts or nightmares. PTSD can develop years after an event, as we have seen in the case of war veterans.

How long does someone have PTSD?

Responses and reactions following a traumatic event may last for weeks or months, but they often show a relatively rapid decrease after the direct impact subsides. It has been estimated that for adults and children after natural disasters with community-wide impact, there is often close to complete symptom remission after eighteen months to three years. In some cases PTSD can remit spontaneously. But PTSD also can develop years after an event. Some children may not develop PTSD until a year or more after the event; this is known as the "sleeper effect." Left untreated for a period of time, such as two years, PTSD can be chronic.