Acute Stress Disorder |

PTSD versus Teen Acute Stress Disorder and Treatment

Posted on 07. May, 2014 by in Disorders

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) is closely related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They are both anxiety disorders that typically develop after an individual experiences trauma. However, one difference between them is the length of time an individual experiences post-traumatic symptoms. If symptoms of anxiety and dissociation have been experienced for less than one month, it is considered ASD. If symptoms of anxiety and dissociation have been experienced for a month or longer, then the diagnosis is PTSD. In addition to the duration of symptoms, there are other important distinctions between these two disorders,

First, Acute Stress Disorder, as the name indicates, is classified as an anxiety disorder.  It’s a mental illness that includes high levels of stress as a result of experiencing a recent trauma. As a result, symptoms of anxiety and dissociation can emerge within two days to one month. However, depending on the severity of the event, the resiliency of the individual, their psychological makeup, conditioning, ethnicity, and other factors, the event can leave zero lasting effects or severe effects on the psyche or any version in between. The disorder was meant to be a tool for therapists and psychologists to describe acute stress symptoms and to be able to identify trauma survivors in the acute phase and who were highly vulnerable to developing PTSD.

Teens who might be vulnerable to developing ASD are those who have experienced any of the following within the last 30 days:

  • Rape
  • Death in the family
  • Witnessing a crime
  • Death or suicide of a close friend
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disaster
  • Witnessing violence
  • Chronic bullying
  • Repeated abandonment
  • Physical or sexual abuse

If a teen has gone through any of the above difficult experiences or any catastrophic event that threatened death or serious injury, he or she might be vulnerable to developing ASD. If ASD is left untreated and the symptoms of anxiety and dissociation continue for longer than four weeks, an adolescent could develop PTSD.

The symptoms to take note of regarding ASD and PTSD include:

  • Feeling numb, detached, or emotionally unresponsive
  • Forgetting important aspects of the traumatic event
  • De-realization, a symptom in which the environment seems strange or unreal
  • De-personalization, a symptom in which thoughts and feelings do not seem real
  • Recurring images of the trauma
  • Feelings of reliving the traumatic event
  • Feelings high levels of stress when an object or person reminds you of the event
  • Avoiding people, objects, and places that stimulate reliving the trauma
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Chronic tension
  • Easily startled
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to sit still

There’s another important distinction between ASD and PTSD to mention and that is for ASD there is a clinical emphasis on dissociation. Dissociation is a psychological response to a terrifying or painful situation that a child or teen cannot escape from. As a result, the mind reacts by detaching from reality, which leads to the symptoms of numbness, forgetting, or avoidance. According to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), the intensity of a dissociative experience can range from normal to problematic to mild, moderate, and severe. Also, dissociation can appear differently in children and teens than in adults.

Teen treatment methods for Acute Stress Disorder might begin with a psychiatric evaluation to determine your child’s specific psychological needs. If symptoms are severe, treatment could also include hospitalization and medication.

Regardless, psychotherapy should be implemented to begin a safe exploration of the trauma and associated thoughts and feelings. A common form of psychotherapy used in treating anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which in this case, would examine the specific trauma-related thoughts, images, and feelings.

If you know that your adolescent has experienced a recent trauma, having him or her assessed for Acute Stress Disorder is the first crucial step you can take. Doing so can facilitate your teen’s recovery, prevent further anxiety, and minimize the risk of this illness becoming chronic, turning to PTSD.  Early treatment can more rapidly restore the mental health and well being of your child.
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