Teens with exposure to stress and trauma face difficulty in identifying emotions, says study

Teens with exposure to stress and trauma face difficulty in identifying emotions, says study

Teenage is the most vulnerable stage of life where a person is prone to experience a series of mental, physical and emotional changes, which increase the risk of other mental health issues, including substance abuse. With an increase in the importance of peer relationships, teens tend to spend less time with their family. Among numerous mental health conditions affecting teenagers every year, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and conduct disorder are two of the most common mental health conditions that have an immense impact on healthy development of teenagers.

Experiencing trauma during one’s teenage years increases the risk of developing both PTSD and conduct disorder. If misdiagnosed or left untreated, these conditions can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, affecting his or her physical and mental growth, apart from increasing the risk of substance use and other mental health problems.

According to a study conducted at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University (NYU), teens with PTSD have the tendency to misinterpret sad and angry facial expressions as fearful, whereas teens with conduct disorder interpret sad faces as anger. Based on the study findings, Dr. Shabnam Javdani, assistant professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt, who led the study alongside Dr. Naomi Sadeh of the University of Delaware, said that an exposure to stress and trauma can lead to severe emotional effects, which can eventually lead to misidentification of important affective cues.

PTSD can affect how teenagers interpret emotions

In the study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health in February 2017, the researchers studied a sample of 371 teens in the age group of 13-19 years, who were diagnosed with emotional and behavioral problems. Approximately 85 percent of the study participants had at least one conduct disorder symptom, around 30 percent were diagnosed with conduct disorder, nearly 17 percent had at least one PTSD symptom, and approximately 12.4 percent were diagnosed with PTSD. However, nearly 17 percent were found to have symptoms of both PTSD and conduct disorder. These teens were also enrolled in therapeutic day schools in Chicago or Providence, Rhode Island.

According to the facial affect recognition task carried out during the study, teens with higher levels of PTSD symptoms were more likely to misinterpret sad and angry emotions as fear. Whereas, teens with high level of conduct disorder were found to have less expertise in identifying other individuals’ sadness, pain, and suffering and often misinterpreted such feelings as bouts of anger. “Difficulty interpreting displays of sadness and misidentifying sadness as anger may contribute to the impaired affective bonding, low empathy, and callous behavior observed in teens with conduct disorder,” said Javdani.

Recovery road map

While experiential therapies such as yoga and Tai Chi are emerging as effective ways to achieve symptomatic management of PTSD, it is important to seek professional help when the situation does not improve, even after incorporating self-help strategies. However, development of treatments is mostly based on an understanding of physiological processes but the psychological factors also need to be looked into with equal depth and understanding.

It is important for a person to have a strong will power and determination to improve his or her mental health. If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety, the Anxiety Treatment Centers of California can help. Contact us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-972-9459 or chat online with one of our representatives who can assist you in finding the best anxiety treatment centers in California.


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