Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Childhood and Adolescence: A Review

Eva Yona Deykin, DrPH


Medscape General Medicine. 1999;1(3) 

In This Article

Abstract & Introduction

PTSD occurs at a high rate in children and adolescents, and this rate appears to be rising. Because this syndrome can have long-lasting effects when it occurs before adulthood, early recognition and treatment are vital.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prolonged, pathologic anxiety that may occur following a severe trauma in both adults and adolescents. According to the current definition in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), PTSD occurs subsequent to a trauma that constitutes a threat to life or physical integrity and elicits intense fear, horror, or helplessness. In order to meet full criteria for PTSD, the individual must subsequently have the feeling of re-experiencing the trauma and have symptoms of avoidance, numbing, and hyperarousal. The symptom cluster must have been present for a least a month following the traumatic event.

Although such symptoms have been recognized for centuries as an extreme reaction to trauma, it was only with the 1980 publication of the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III) that PTSD was designated as a psychiatric disorder in the psychiatric nomenclature. The inclusion of this disorder as an official psychiatric classification was prompted, in part, by the large number of Vietnam veterans who were suffering from a predictable symptom cluster following combat experience. These symptoms were of long duration, subjectively painful, functionally impairing, and were often associated with alcohol/drug abuse as well as with diminished impulse control.