New mental illnesses - 4: Post-traumatic stress disorder in preschoolers

New mental illnesses – 4: Post-traumatic stress disorder in preschoolers

Just a few decades back, one hardly knew about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in preschool children. However, PTSD in preschool children has emerged as a growing cause of concern now. Additionally, people are now aware that any trauma and maltreatment can cause PTSD among children with an evolving mind.

Historically, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) overcame the existing gap in psychiatry by including PTSD in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980. Thereafter, the first case of child with PTSD was recorded in 1987.

The fourth part of the series ‘New mental illnesses’ throws light on the problem of PTSD in preschoolers. Since many are unaware of its symptoms, consequences and causes, it is important to understand the disorder well to be aware of the necessary symptoms in little children. Here are some important considerations about preschoolers with PTSD that people need to be aware of to identify the problem:

Maltreatment: According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the American child protection services receive about 3 million referrals of maltreatment every year, which represents about 5.5 million children. Being much more vulnerable than adults, children, especially infants and young children, are more likely to be exposed to any kind of maltreatment.

With most of the reports being mainly related to the children below the age of 5, an increased number of injuries and deaths are typically reported in the first years of life. With 77 percent of children who succumb to maltreatment are below the age of 3 years, according to the National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, they also often display the symptoms of PTSD.

Trauma: As eight of the 17 symptoms of PTSD require the patient to talk about the traumatic incident or experience, PTSD often remains undiagnosed in very young children. Being scared of strangers and to leave their parents, they are unable to share their experiences with anyone.

Such children may show sleep problems due to nightmares and also think about certain words or symbols unrelated to the trauma. Early exposure to trauma and prolonged stress often lead to heightened arousal, increased stress hormones and changes in emotion regulation circuits. These alterations can have long-term effects, including mental disorders in later childhood, adolescence and even adulthood.

Attachment: Attachment, primary emotional relationship with a caregiver, is also an important factor because the may affect the children’s psychology. As children respond according to the responses of their caregivers, generally due to the biological factors, any kind of change in their behavior or stress levels is dependent on the nature of their caregivers.

As such, children have various types of attachments with their caregiver, ranging from secure, anxious-ambivalent to disorganized.   Post separation from their caregiver, children display a range of behaviors, including seeking comfort as provided in a secure attachment to bizarre characteristics like freezing. Attachment may be important for prevention of stress and determining PTSD among children.

Interventions: Maltreatment and poor attachment among preschoolers can be identified by pediatric centers. If any child displays the symptoms of PTSD, the centers may offer care or refer him or her to the specialized service providers.

Additionally, health care providers and trained medical professionals can train the new parents in providing quality care and support to their infants or toddlers. Such parenting support is vital for ensuring a healthy psychological condition in children, as well as to overcome attachment-related problems between parents and children.

Relationship-based psychotherapy interventions, such as child-parent psychotherapy (CPP), can be opted by professionals to provide care to toddlers who may need specialized care. Evidence-based treatments can prove beneficial when both trauma and PTSD occur in a preschooler.

Give a better life to children

Parents and guardians of preschoolers can consult a child mental health specialist to seek suggestions on mental disorder treatment in Florida to learn the ways to identify PTSD symptoms in children. In the absence or delay in treatment, a preschooler has more chances of witnessing problems during adolescence, as well as in adulthood.

Contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline to know about the treatment for mental disorders in Florida. Alternatively, you can chat online or call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-846-5588 to know more about the disorder.

Read the other articles of the series “New mental illnesses:”

  1. Hypersex disorder
  2. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  3. Binge eating disorder
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