SCOTS children as young as five have been diagnosed with stress symptoms more often seen in war veterans.
The Record has uncovered the shocking number of youngsters blighted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after suffering sexual, emotional or physical abuse or witnessing catastrophic events.
Nearly 100 children across the country have been diagnosed with severe psychological problems such as anxiety, panic attacks and poor concentration due to traumatic experiences.
Child health expert Professor Panos Vostanis, from the University of Leicester, said: “Acute external events such as accidents and natural disasters, a range of violence-related traumas such as domestic or community violence or abuse can cause this condition.
“It is certainly more recognised now because of a higher awareness of PTSD.”
Statistics from health boards who responded to our freedom of information requests for PTSD cases recorded in children since 2010 make grim reading.
Children in Greater Glasgow, Lothian and Grampian are suffering the same psychological trauma seen in kids in war-torn Gaza.
More than half of 15 to 18-year-olds in Gaza show signs of full or partial post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing dead bodies and witnessing heavy shelling.
In Glasgow, two children aged under 10, 21 aged 11 to 15 and 15 aged 16 to 18 were found to have PTSD.
In Grampian, nine children were diagnosed in 2010, eight in 2011 and 17 in 2012-13.
Lothian health chiefs said somewhere between five and 25 children aged 13 to 19 were diagnosed with the disorder, and Tayside NHS could not provide figures.
They said: “Considering the impracticality of having to manually review every patient seen within the service for the last four years, it would be challenging to provide data in relation to the request for inpatients and outpatients within child and adolescent mental mealth services.”
NHS Greater Glasgow said: “PTSD would be diagnosed after the occurrence of a traumatic event or events which can take the form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or a catastrophic event
such as a serious accident.
“If the reaction to a traumatic event does not diminish in the first month or so and the child experiences flashbacks, re-experiencing of reactions to the events, hyperarousal, anxiety and panic attacks, they would be diagnosed with PTSD.
“Children and young people we see have experienced these causes.”
Paula Lavis, of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, believes our figures may be the tip of the iceberg.
She said: “Experiencing extreme trauma or a very stressful event is likely to cause PTSD in children. This can be experiencing abuse, but it could also be things like being in a traffic accident or witnessing a traumatic event.
“Data concerning children’s mental health is quite poor generally, so it is difficult to say whether it is increasing.
“Children may not display PTSD the same ways adults do so it is important to ensure practitioners know what to look out for such as sleeping problems, acting out in play and so on, rather than just focusing on the characteristic symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks.”
Matt Forde, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said: “Abuse, maltreatment and violence can have a profound effect on children’s mental health.
“This can be compounded in young children, in particular children who are taken into care. Separation from their families and homes can add to the deep trauma of maltreatment and leave them feeling confused and unloved.
“The lack of a stable attachment can have a profound effect on their developing brain, doing long-term damage that can result in mental and physical ill-health.
“As well as ruining childhoods, early abuse and maltreatment is associated with drug and alcohol problems and risky sexual behaviour in adolescence and adulthood. It also increases the risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship difficulties and negative self-image.
“But if a child experiences stable, safe, nurturing and loving care as early as possible following mal-treatment, their recovery can be rapid and remarkable.
“This is why therapeutic services, such as those offered by NSPCC Scotland, are so important.”
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