in Teens

Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness Logo on a shield

At the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness, we are dedicated to supporting teenagers and their families as they navigate the challenges of living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has reported that more than two-thirds of children have experienced at least one traumatic event by the age of 16 1 . These events can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, accidents, natural disasters, and other types of trauma. Experiencing trauma at a young age can have a profound and lasting impact on a child’s well-being and can also result in the development of PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD can be challenging to cope with and can include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviors, and heightened anxiety. These symptoms can interfere with a teen’s ability to function at school, at home, and in their social relationships. However, effective treatments for PTSD, like trauma-informed therapy, are available and can help teens manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

stressed female teenager sitting of sofa with PTSD

Understanding PTSD in Teens

PTSD is a mental health condition that affects individuals of all ages, including teenagers. The disorder is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, which leads to a range of symptoms that can significantly impact a teen’s life. 2

Early intervention is particularly important because PTSD symptoms can become more entrenched and difficult to treat over time. This underscores the need for increased awareness of PTSD in teens. Schools, healthcare providers, and mental health professionals to work together to provide timely and effective interventions for teens who have experienced trauma.

By providing early intervention and treatment, we can help teens who have experienced trauma to recover, thrive, and improve their long-term mental health and well-being.

Causes of PTSD in Teens

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be the result of experiencing a range of traumatic events, such as, but aren’t limited to:

Physical or sexual abuse

Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or wildfires

Serious accidents, including car crashes or life-threatening falls

Witnessing acts of violence or death, either in person or through media coverage

While PTSD can occur from a variety of different traumatic events, child abuse is one of the most common ones. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, child protection receives approximately three million reports annually. Given that child abuse is often underreported, it is likely that a significant number of teens are at risk of developing PTSD as a result of childhood traumas.3

Stressed male teenager with PTSD

What are the Signs of PTSD in Teens?

Identifying the signs and symptoms of PTSD is a crucial step in addressing this condition. Parents, caregivers, and teachers should be aware of the signs of PTSD in adolescents, which can include:

Persistent anxiety or worry

Difficulty concentrating or paying attention

Declining academic performance

Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or nightmares

Irritability or angry outbursts

Social withdrawal or isolation

Sudden disinterest in previously enjoyed activities

Prevalence and Impact of PTSD on Teens

According to estimates, around 5% of adolescents aged 13-18 suffer from PTSD in the United States. This equates to approximately 1 in 20 teenagers experiencing PTSD. Early intervention is crucial in mitigating the long-term effects of PTSD on adolescents. If not addressed, PTSD can significantly impact various aspects of a teen’s life, including: 4

1. Social well-being

Adolescents with PTSD may struggle to form and maintain relationships due to trust issues, fear of being judged, or difficulty connecting with others. These challenges can ultimately result in social isolation and feelings of loneliness. As a result, it is crucial to address PTSD symptoms and provide the necessary support and resources to help adolescents develop healthy and fulfilling relationships.

2. Academic performance

PTSD can affect a teen’s ability to concentrate, remember information, and engage in class, leading to lower grades and an increased risk of dropping out of school. These academic struggles can further contribute to feelings of low self-worth, hopelessness, and anxiety, which can worsen the symptoms of PTSD.

3. Emotional health

Teens with PTSD may experience a wide range of emotions, such as anger, guilt, shame, and depression. These emotions can interfere with their ability to function in daily life and may contribute to the development of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or substance abuse.

Mother consoling daughter in distress because she has PTSD as a teen

Long-Term Effects of PTSD in Teens

If left untreated, PTSD can have long-lasting consequences on a teen’s overall well-being. According to Stanford Children’s Health, adolescents with PTSD are at a higher risk for other mental health problems, such as depression. Some other long-term effects include: 5

Chronic mental health issues, such as depression anxiety

Increased risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation

Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships in adulthood

Diminished capacity for emotional intimacy

Impaired occupational and educational achievement

Treatment Options for Teens with PTSD

Getting treatment for adolescent traumas is crucial in helping teens recover from PTSD. There are several beneficial options available to treat PTSD in teens, including:


Various therapeutic approaches can help teens with PTSD:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with positive ones. In the case of PTSD, CBT can help the teen understand and manage their symptoms, identify triggers, and learn coping mechanisms. CBT has been proven to be effective for long-term of PTSD recovery, in both adults and adolescents. 6

Eye movement desensitization
and reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

This type of therapy uses eye movements to help the brain process traumatic memories and emotions. It can be particularly helpful for teens who struggle to talk about their trauma or have difficulty accessing memories of the traumatic event.

Trauma-informed therapy

Trauma-informed therapy

This approach emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact of trauma on a teen's life and uses a holistic approach to address the emotional, physical, and cognitive effects of trauma. It also recognizes that trauma can impact a person's relationships, sense of safety, and overall well-being, and focuses on building resilience and healthy coping mechanisms.


In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage PTSD symptoms. Antidepressants can be helpful in treating depression and anxiety, which are common symptoms of PTSD. Anti-anxiety medications can also be prescribed to manage excessive worry and panic attacks. It is important to note that medication should always be used in conjunction with therapy and under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can also be beneficial in managing PTSD symptoms. These techniques can help adolescents develop healthy coping strategies and promote relaxation.

Mindfulness-based interventions can be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Exercise, such as yoga, can also help regulate mood and reduce stress levels. These alternative treatments can be used in conjunction with therapy and medication to help treat PTSD in teens.

PTSD Treatment for Teens -
Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness

The Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness is committed to providing resources and support for teenagers and their families as they cope with PTSD. By raising awareness, understanding the impact of PTSD, and seeking appropriate treatment, we can help teens recover and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. With the right information, support, and professional help, adolescents with PTSD can overcome their challenges and build resilience for the future.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment program for teens with PTSD at Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Understanding child trauma.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2021). What is PTSD?
  3. National Center for PTSD. (2021). Common reactions to trauma for children and teens.
  4. National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  5. Stanford Children’s Health. (n.d.). Post-traumatic stress disorder in children.
  6. Becker, S. P., & Ferri, J. (2021). Sleep disturbance mediates the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and functional impairment in adolescents. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 34(4), 905-909.

Clinically Reviewed by:

Dr. Melanie Carbonneau PhD, LMHC, MT-BC

Dr. Melanie Carbonneau PhD, LMHC, MT-BC

Melanie Carbonneau is the Clinical Director at Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness and is a licensed counselor and certified music therapist with a Ph.D. from Lesley University. She leads MCAW with a focus on holistic care, emphasizing the importance of family and community involvement in the healing process.