PTSD in Refugee and Unaccompanied Children:

By: Luz Melendez

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can occur to someone after being exposed to one or more traumatic events. These traumatic events can vary from a natural disaster, war/combat, serious injury, sexual violence, and/or exposure to death threats. After experiencing a trauma there can be an emotional reaction to these events which can include fear, helplessness, and even horror. There may also be distressing memories of the traumatic event which can be recurrent and involuntary. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms have to last for more than a month and be persistent. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

One population that is less talked about when it comes to PTSD is children, but more specifically refugee or asylum seeking children. The current population of children with PTSD in the U.S. is about 5% and among refugee children in the U.S. it’s about 54%. These children are experiencing hunger, extreme poverty, bombings, abductions, sexual assault, and even witnessing deaths. These stressors can often co-occur making everyday life very difficult for them. The effects of these events are causing developmental regression, clinginess, repetitive play of the trauma/s, anxiety, depression, ACES, and mood changes. One effect that is very important is how the brain is being affected by these traumas. PTSD is developed in two key regions of the brain, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala reacts too strongly while the prefrontal cortex impedes the ability to regulate a threat response. It’s the perfect storm that leads to hyperarousal, hyper vigilance, and sleep deprivation which are big issues when it comes to children. Children’s brains are growing and developing and these traumas are stunting the global developmental growth of these children’s brains.

Often PTSD in refugee or asylum seeking children, if left untreated/undiagnosed, can and will lead to life long-lasting effects. In the situation these children are in, it’s difficult to not only diagnose them but to properly treat them. Many if not all have witnessed one or more of the stressors mentioned above and these children are out in the world not only having their lives completely change but having their mental health deteriorate. Thankfully some host countries who take in refugees, screen them and try to help them adjust to their now new lives and overcome barriers that come with accessing physical and mental health care. This also includes overcoming the stigma that refugees have of seeking mental health care. Like mentioned before only some host countries do this, others are still fixing their processing of refugees.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, Arista Counseling and Psychotherapy can help. Please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit http://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/ .

 

Reference:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

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