Post-Traumatic Stress After Losing a Child

By July 23, 2019July 30th, 2020Blog


As a parent, there is no greater fear than that of losing a child. A child’s death is especially traumatic because it is often unexpected as well as being in violation of the usual order of life in which the child is expected to precede their parents. The emotional blow associated with child loss can lead to a wide range of psychological and physiological problems including depression, anxiety, cognitive and physical symptoms linked to stress, marital problems, increased risk for suicide, pain, and guilt.  All of these issues can persist long after a child’s death and may lead to a diagnosed psychiatric condition such as complicated grief disorder which can include many symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Complicated Grief Disorder

Grieving the loss of a loved one tears open our hearts, our lives, and seems to make time stand still, as we search for ways to make sense of the loss and what it means to our whole lives. We cry, eat more or less, cannot sleep, long for our loved ones, and wonder how we will ever be able to live without them. This is all normal in simple grief. Over time, those feelings of grief and sadness will eventually pass.

For some people, however, the feelings and emotions after suffering a loss are debilitating and do not improve even after a significant period of time has passed. This is known as complicated grief disorder, also known as complex bereavement disorder. With complicated grief, painful emotions are so long-lasting and severe that a person has trouble recovering from the loss and resuming their own life.

There are several symptoms that are associated with complicated grief disorder. The easiest way to depict the disorder is by describing it as being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that prevents individuals from healing. The specific symptoms include:

●      Intense sadness, pain, and contemplation over the loss of a loved one

●      Inability to focus on anything other than the loss

●      Either extreme focus or avoidance of reminders of a loved one

●      Intense and persistent longing for a loved one

●      Inability to accept the death

●      Numbness or detachment

●      Feelings of bitterness or that life held no purpose

●      Lack of trust in others

●      Feelings of depression, deep sadness, guilt, or self-blame

What is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to a shocking, distressing event. Some examples of common traumatic events are natural disasters, car accidents, and assault. Trauma does not discriminate and can happen to anyone at any time in any place. Approximately 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma at some point in their lives.

There are several symptoms associated with trauma one can potentially experience. These symptoms include:

●      Nausea

●      Dizziness

●      Emotions such as sadness, anger, denial, fear, and shame

●      Nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping

●      Insomnia or altered sleep patterns

●      Difficulty maintaining and starting new relationships 

●      Emotional, specifically angry, outbursts

●      Gastrointestinal problems 

In order for an individual to be diagnosed with trauma, they do not have to experience all or even most of the symptoms on the list. All of these symptoms and feelings are a completely natural and normal part of the recovery process after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. However, sometimes these symptoms may continue without diminishing.

Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) is a completely common and standard response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event; nearly everyone who survives trauma will experience at least a few symptoms of post-traumatic stress. When a person is under extreme stress, such as during a traumatic event, the human brain instinctively tells the body to tense up the muscles, pump more blood, and breathe faster. This instinctive reaction is known as the “fight or flight” response, which prepares the human body to deal with a threat or challenge.

The potential symptoms of PTS are increased heart rate, shaky hands, nightmares, avoiding anything that reminds a person of their traumatic experience as well as a feeling of fear and nervousness. In order to have PTS, an individual does not have to experience all of the listed symptoms. While these symptoms may be momentarily intense, symptoms of PTS usually subside a few days after the traumatic event; PTS does not cause any prolonged interference with one’s life and daily activities.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)          

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can develop after having witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Serious accidents, natural disasters, losing a loved one, terrorist attacks, war/combat, and assault are all examples of traumatic events that can cause PTSD.

PTSD can happen to anyone and affects roughly 3.5% of adults in the United States at any instant. Moreover, it is estimated that roughly 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely than men.

There are many different symptoms someone with PTSD may experience. In order for someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, they do not have to experience all of the symptoms on the list. The symptoms include: 

●  Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

●  Flashbacks or nightmares

●  Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds the person of the traumatic event

●  Avoiding places, activities or people that remind the person of the traumatic event.

●  Negative thoughts about oneself, other people, or the world

●  Feelings of hopelessness, detachment, sadness, anger, guilt, shame or irritability

●  Difficulty concentrating and memory problems

●  Difficulty maintaining or creating close relationships

●  Lack of interest in activities the person once enjoyed

●  Easily startled or frightened

●  Trouble sleeping

●  Aggressive and/or reckless behaviors

Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience the symptoms listed above in the days following the event. However, for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms have to last for more than a month. Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms can appear later in life. For people with PTSD, these symptoms cause significant distress and can prohibit them from continuing with their daily living activities.

Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will end up with PTSD. It is important to note that PTSD is not a sign of weakness; there is no way to know if an individual will or will not experience PTSD symptoms after a trauma.

Early Intervention and Treatment is Critical

Trauma and PTS caused by losing a child can leave lasting scars that can completely alter a person’s demeanor and character for the rest of their life if left untreated. Seeking treatment can completely turn one’s life around after a traumatic event, giving them the chance to get back to life before the trauma.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for both PTS and PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Normally, one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing an individual from enjoying the full life they deserve. The therapy works equally well on bullying victims, combat vets, and others.

Do not let trauma and PTS caused by losing a child control your life. Contact ART International to learn more about ART or find a therapist near you.