Trauma in teenagers

Following on from Karen’s blog on self-harm, I wanted to raise awareness of how trauma in childhood can have a significant effect on young people’s mental health, leading to issues such as self-harm, depression and anxiety.

When working in Hertford with teenagers, my initial contact is with the parents when I will do some fact finding into their child’s history. Parents are often surprised when I ask if their child has suffered any trauma, going back as far into the child’s life as when they were born. Some reasons for the parent’s surprise include comparing our own childhood experiences which, in adult life, we can often filter out or we were just too young to remember. How would we remember if we suffered trauma at 2 years of age?  Up until fairly recent times, there has been a lack of understanding of what trauma is and how it affects human development.


In the first study of its kindKings College London looked at more than 2,000 children born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1995. The study discovered that nearly a third of participants had experienced trauma in childhood with a quarter going on to develop PTSD – an anxiety disorder that can develop after being involved in, or witnessing, very stressful, frightening or distressing events.1


Examples of trauma could include being bullied at school, physically or verbally, visiting a sibling in hospital or being hospitalised themselves, living with a family member or parent who suffers from their own mental health issues.


Our environment and experiences in early life and teenage years have a great impact on our wellbeing. In these formative and sometimes pre-verbal years we find it hard to process events that happen to us. For example, if we have had an accident and require medical intervention but we are too young to realise that those attending to us are actually trying to help (even though medical staff are far more aware of these issues when working with children).


This often results in the individual being hyper-vigilant and in a permanent state of ‘fight or flight’, constantly on the look-out for danger. Not only is it exhausting living with this level of anxiety, it can have a direct effect on our mental and physical health including:


  • Weakened immune system
  • Phobias
  • OCD
  • Social anxiety


Further detail on trauma can be found here.

If you or a friend believe you may be suffering the effects of trauma, seeking help will enable you to work on issues you or a friend may be experiencing.



1                The Independent, February 22nd 2019