In the digital age, part of staying connected online is exposure to daily accounts of horrific violence across the globe and in our communities that shape our sense of safety and justice.
Although some media outlets protect the names of victims and censor their stories, teens who read these stories are sensitive to their rawness and are more vulnerable to absorbing the shock of their impact than adults who are better able to differentiate immediate from potential threats. Secondary PTSD is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the first-hand trauma experiences of another, either a close friend or family member or a stranger in the news.
What is Secondary PTSD?
Direct trauma can be just as impactful as indirect trauma. As many people with secondary PTSD are sensitive to or have taken on the suffering of others, many of the symptoms overlap.
Signs of secondary PTSD include:
- Preoccupation with the suffering of others
- Intrusive thoughts about the event
- Witnessing violence against another person
- Holding onto family’s trauma
- Being in a caretaking role for a survivor
- Anger and cynicism
- Hypervigilance and Hyperarousal
- Sleeplessness or nightmares
- Emotional exhaustion
Effects it has on Teenagers
- Survivor’s guilt is a normal response to loss, even if it is not necessarily logical for someone to feel responsible for another person’s fate. This is especially common among teens who have had friends or parents impacted by a traumatic event. They might question whether the people affected deserved it or wish they could take their place. They might worry about ways they could have prevented the event or changed the outcome, even if they had no control over it.
- Compassion Fatigue explains the exhaustion that accompanies caretaking. Some teenagers are desensitized to the effects of trauma, having witnessed it so frequently or having been put into a caregiving role. While they may remain empathetic to other people’s suffering on the surface, they may feel numb inside.
- Mean World Syndrome refers to the phenomenon in which exposure to information in the media cultivates a negative worldview. If teenagers are flooded with stories of natural disasters, climate change, war, sexual violence, and murder, they will grow up fearing that the same things may happen to them. They see the world as a dark and hopeless place, regardless of whether their immediate environment has told them the same stories about the world.
- Increased anxiety, depression, and lack of stable sense of self.
Ways to Address Secondary Trauma:
Developing an internal locus of control. Trauma affects one’s ability to feel like they can control anything around them. Beliefs may include Everything happens to me or I am a victim of circumstances. Recognizing that they may not be able to control events that occur, but they can control how they respond to them helps build self-esteem and reduce fear of the world.
Establishing sense of safety. Part of developing an internal locus of control is recognize whether the threat is real in their immediate environment or in the present. Seeking out safe spaces, supportive people, and practicing self care is a form of self-protection.
Selecting positive media. If exposure to negative media cultivates a negative worldview, choosing media with inspirational content can shape a more optimistic view of the world that empowers them to heal from fears associated with secondary trauma. Positive media challenges negative belief systems and allows them to recognize that there is a balance between good and bad in the world, but it is up to them to choose what they want to see.
How Solstice Can Help
Solstice RTC is a residential treatment program for teen girls and assigned female at birth ages 14-18 who struggle with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and/or relationship struggles. This program provides three types of therapy: individual, group, and family therapy. Solstice Residential Treatment Center is dedicated to teaching teens how to incorporate healthy habits into their lives. Students will leave with the skills they need to transition into the world feeling confident, happy, and able to manage their emotions.
Contact us at 866-278-3345. We can help your family today!