Helping a Student in Crisis With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Many high school students have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. This disease may be a follow-up result of a traumatic incident like rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, gun violence, car accident, witnessing domestic violence at home, being beaten by a gang, a crime incident, or myriad other traumatic events.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome may show up right away after a traumatic incident or it may take years or decades to become apparent. Students with PTSD may show obvious symptoms such as being very jumpy or withdrawn or handing in assignments that contain instances of dyslexic writing that were never there before. Trauma and PTSD may impact a student’s ability to maintain their normal cognitive skills during certain periods right after the incident or when PTSD first shows up.
With PTSD the mind also becomes hyper vigilant; thus students may appear anxious or overly alert to their surroundings. Some students also very clearly look traumatized after a crime incident or other event that is now triggering post-traumatic stress disorder.
Talk to the Student
If a student looks very stressed and appears especially jumpy you may want to ask them if they have experienced a traumatic incident recently. Many students are relieved when someone directly asks them if they are in a crisis. They want to talk, but find it difficult to approach a teacher or guidance counselor on their own.
Talk privately with a student, either in the hallway during class or after class, if you notice their academic work has changed significantly in some way or if they have stopped handing in assignments. Ask the student if they are ok, or if they are in some sort of crisis. Students are often too upset to talk to anyone but their friends about their traumatic incidents or PTSD.
Too often they keep the fact that they are having flashbacks of the traumatic incident a secret. Teenagers with PTSD may have never heard of the disorder; they experience extreme dismay upon the start of symptoms of the disorder. They may not even tell their parents. So be proactive and talk to any student who seems to be in crisis. PTSD treatment is best if started as soon as possible. Reach out to help students get the help they need.
Talk to the School Psychologist
Talk to the school psychologist and obtain information about PTSD and obtain any handouts available to share with the student. Ask the psychologist for tips to help the student continue to thrive academically while handling the symptoms of PTSD.
Ask the school psychologist to have regular appointments with the student. Talking with the psychologist will typically reassure the student that someone cares about their problem and is willing to help them deal with the intense emotions the traumatic incident and subsequent PTSD create.
Inform Student of Websites with Information about PTSD
Encourage the student to do research about PTSD to learn that many teenagers suffer from the disorder (see the reference section below). Help ease the student’s feelings of isolation by pointing them to websites that will have information about PTSD statistics.
Talk to the ROTC Department
If the military has an ROTC office in the school building talk to the officers there. Many military people have PTSD due to war experiences. The officers may be able to share information about how to help students with PTSD. They may also have books or handouts about PTSD that you may want to use to learn from or to make copies of excerpts to give to students.