Department of Psychiatry
Penn Behavioral Health

Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery

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What is Psychological Trauma?

About Psychological Trauma

Psychological trauma is caused by an adverse experience, or series of experiences, that result in an injury that changes the way the brain functions, impairing neurophysiological, psychological, and cognitive functioning. A significant percentage of individuals will develop Traumatic Stress symptoms and PTSD including these common symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbance and nightmares
  • Irritability, anger and oppositional behavior
  • Intrusive memories and thoughts
  • Withdrawal and avoidance of people, places and things
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Hypervigilance
  • Physical symptoms: racing heart, head aches, stomach aches

Others will experience changes in mood, become more aggressive and oppositional or more generally anxious and worried. Younger children may lose recently gained milestones such as bladder control and even language.


The Long-Term Impact of Psychological Trauma

Children who are suffering the emotional consequences of traumatic exposure are more likely to suffer from a variety of immediate and long-term issues, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Respiratory difficulties (such as asthma)
  • Poor school performance
  • High rates of drop-out
  • Increased likelihood of incarceration
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Under or unemployment
  • Chronic medical and mental illness