For the first 52 years of my life, I had no idea children could struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But in 2008 when my son, age 26, was diagnosed with this mental illness, I learned the truth. PTSD in children is real, and my son had been living with it for 26 years. His PTSD began when he had surgery less than a day after he was born.
“He won’t remember,” the doctors told us.
But, deep in his implicit memory, our son did remember. And though he’s gone through successful treatment and has learned to cope with the memories of the trauma he experienced as an infant, those memories will always be with him. He will never forget them.
The truth about PTSD in children won’t let me rest.
So today, which is PTSD Awareness Day, I am climbing onto my soapbox again. Just as I did a year ago. Just like I will next year and for many years to come. Because even though I and many others speak about PTSD in children frequently, and even though my book Does My Child Have PTSD? has been published and is widely available, too many children with PTSD go undiagnosed.
That is the sad truth about PTSD in children.
But the truth gets even sadder. The truth is that many children are correctly diagnosed with PTSD, but they aren’t treated. For a variety of reasons. Many parents can’t find qualified trauma therapists. Many parents delay treatment because they think they can’t afford it.
The sad truth is that their children can’t afford not to be treated.
“But,” I often say to parents who for financial reasons don’t pursue treatment after a diagnosis, “if your son fell out of a tree and broke his leg, would you wait to go to the ER until you could afford it? Or, if the doctor said your daughter had diabetes, would you wait to begin insulin therapy until you had the money in hand?”
This tendency to delay mental health treatment points out another sad truth.
Our society doesn’t take mental illness or its treatment seriously enough. A broken brain isn’t as visible as a broken leg. A wounded mind doesn’t ache the same way a wounded hand does. So our society doesn’t make mental illness in children or adults a priority. Sadly, most churches don’t either.
The truth is that children with PTSD should be a top priority in our society and in the church.
Because when children with PTSD become a priority in our world, lives are changed. PTSD in children is highly treatable, even in kids as young as 3 years old. Those who receive effective treatment shortly after traumatic events often recover with no ill effects. Early treatment prevents complications of untreated trauma later in life.
These are positive truths about PTSD in children.
These truths are why PTSD Awareness Day exists. Tor raise awareness so church bodies will heed God’s call to heal the sick and care for the weak. So society will be changed as believers demonstrate the compassion of Christ to people with mental illness. So adults will advocate until every child wounded by trauma receives the treatment needed to recover and live a healthy life. So children will be mentally healthy enough to hear the gospel and embrace the truth of Christ.