We know that it’s not necessary to be enlisted in the military and travel overseas to experience post traumatic stress disorder. In the United States, specifically inner city areas, children and teenagers are developing PTSD from trauma they experience or witness on the streets and in their own homes. PTSD in children is very common. Kids suffer from traumas that include but are not limited to physical and sexual assault, natural disasters, school shootings, and car crashes.
But even when these children experience traumatic events in their youth, there is still hope for healing and recovery. One way to assist these kids recover from a traumatic experience is through America’s real-life superheroes: United States veterans.
Find out how US combat vets are helping inner-city youth who struggle with PTSD.
In 2015, a man named Eddie Bocanegra was released from prison after being sentenced for gang violence. With the help of his brother, an Army veteran, Eddie realized the similarities between what soldiers experienced in war and what children and teens experience in gang life. Both soldiers and gang members suffered from PTSD. With this newfound perspective, Eddie founded the organization Urban Warriors, and called on Chicago’s combat veterans to help support the thousands of children currently experiencing a myriad of traumas.
According to NPR storywriter Audie Cornish, 3,000 people were shot in Chicago in 2015 with as many as 151 shootings concentrated in a single neighborhood. Based out of the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Initiative, Urban Warriors was set up to help any and all children affected by these numbers.
Many others like Eddie Bocanegra are realizing that gang life has several similarities to a war zone. In generalized terms, soldiers carry guns, have ranks, and sometimes have to kill people; it’s the same life that many inner-city kids are living at such young ages. Additionally, these kids know what it means to fear for their safety and even their lives. They’ve seen loved ones and comrades die in front of them, just like many veterans have.
The Urban Warriors curriculum includes 16 weeks of therapy centered primarily on discussion. In almost any therapeutic program dealing with PTSD, the path to healing is the same: talking. Victims are encouraged, but never forced, to talk about what they feel, what they saw, and their fears for the future.
There are five terms that Urban Warriors holds up as curriculum objectives: belonging, positive identity development, cognitive restructuring, coping, and community engagement.
Over the 16 designated weeks, kids talk about the traumatic events they’ve experienced, and the combat veterans talk about theirs. The veterans at Urban Warriors are trained to help young people understand and process their feelings. Empathy and shared experiences are the tools they use to give the nightmare a name and a face: if children understand what PTSD is, they are better equipped to handle it in themselves. The veterans also work to dispel stigmas and help kids understand that their reactions to trauma are normal, human, and okay.
After they complete their time at Urban Warriors, children and veterans alike can choose to continue their journey of healing by participating in Story Squad. In this program, children and veterans can make audio recordings of their personal experiences with violence. Story Squad then shares these stories with the community and the world through the internet. The thinking behind Story Squad is similar to that of Urban Warriors: talking and sharing is cathartic for PTSD victims of any age.
The Urban Warriors Story Album is available for streaming on SoundCloud and can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/ysvp/sets/urban-warriors-story-album
PTSD in Children Statistics and Symptoms
According to the VA, more than 30 percent of children ages 10 – 16 have been sexually or physically assaulted. Every year, 5.5 million children are intercepted by child protective services. A third of these interceptions are due to abuse. 60 percent of this abuse is neglect, 18 percent is physical, 10 percent is sexual, and 7 percent is psychological.
3 – 10 million children a year witness family violence, and around half these instances involve some form of child abuse. Note that only a third of child abuse cases are even reported. Among children, as many as 43 percent of girls and 43 percent of boys can experience a type of trauma. Of these, almost 15 percent of girls and 6 percent of boys are diagnosed with PTSD.
Whether or not a child develops PTSD has to do with the severity of the trauma they experience, their proximity to the trauma, and the reaction of their parents. Kids with PTSD desperately need responsive, caring parents as they express symptomatic behavior; those with supportive and patient parents heal faster and more completely than those without.
As we see from the statistics, girls are more likely than boys to get PTSD.
Children ages 5-12 will deal with their trauma by reenacting it at playtime. They don’t have flashbacks like adults, but they become increasingly hyperaware of the future, looking for telltale signs of the next trauma and trying to plan out how they can avoid it. Teens ages 12-18 are the ones most likely to express their PTSD through impulsive or aggressive behavior.
Common emotional changes in children with PTSD include increased fear, worry, sadness, and low self-worth. Particularly when it comes to sexual abuse, child victims are more prone to self-harm and drug and alcohol abuse.
PTSD Treatment for Kids Is Similar to Treatment for Vets
Around the world, huge advancements are being made eliminating stigmas and recognizing PTSD as a serious disability. Some school districts use psychological first aid (PFA) to help afflicted kids function and remain in school. Many therapists are using Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) to help children, as they do with adults. Like was mentioned earlier, communication and self-expression appear to be key in overcoming the crippling effects of trauma, regardless of age.
Many children and adults fighting PTSD need to be reassured that the world is not a wholly unsafe place. Therapy and education dispel false notions about trauma and false notions about the world as a result. Children and veterans are taught how to remain calm when bombarded with bad memories.
Parents of traumatized children play an especially important role in the recovery process. Generally, all PTSD recovery programs are designed to also help loved ones and immediate family in addition to the victims.
Often, many combat veterans return home to their families only to alienate and even harm them due to unchecked mental illness. Similarly, parents who don’t understand or respond well to their child’s trauma can make the situation worse. This is why many programs are eager to educate parents on their children’s changing behavior and what it means. This understanding allows parents to gauge their child’s mental state and help them heal.
We at Low VA Rates make home and family our business. Our mission is to provide a good life for veterans, knowing full well that many have seen or experienced terrible things. We understand the struggles you face, and we are here to help you, whether through affordable housing, events and fundraisers, or raising awareness of these issues on our blog. We hope everyone will be aware of PTSD and its causes in their community and abroad; we hope you will reach out to those still fighting the invisible war.