Identifying mental health problems


PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a set of reactions that can occur after a person has been through or witnessed a traumatic or violent event. This event can be a one-time experience or a continuous/ chronic trauma.

Violence is a feature of gang life and young people who join them may be put under considerable pressure to commit violence, while refusal to do so may result in them being victimised themselves. A UK study undertaken by researchers from Queen Mary University of London and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests, "It is probable that, among gang members, high levels of anxiety disorder and psychosis were explained by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most frequent psychiatric outcome of exposure to violence."

Situations like those listed below can result in young people suffering from traumatic stress.

  • Parental neglect or abandonment by a parent or caregiver
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Being raped or sexual abuse
  • Physical violence, including bullying
  • Witnessing another person being killed or seriously injured
  • Death or loss of someone close, especially in an unexpected or violent manner

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can vary from person to person. They fall into three specific categories of intense physical and emotional reactions.

Re-experiencing the trauma

Reliving and re-experiencing trauma is the most common complication of post-traumatic stress disorder. This can be extremely distressing for sufferers.

The majority of people with PTSD will experience the following symptoms:

  • vivid flashbacks
  • nightmares
  • intense distress when faced with symbolic reminders
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • recurring emotional and physical sensations of what happened (i.e. sweating, pain, trembling and nausea).

Feeling on edge

Also known as 'hyperarousal', feeling on edge is the body's survival mechanism in action. Someone with PTSD will feel constantly anxious and always on the alert for danger. This makes it hard for sufferers to relax and they are easily startled.

Hyperarousal is characterised by the following symptoms:

  • being easily upset
  • irritability and aggression
  • intense panic when reminded of the trauma
  • self-destructive behaviour or recklessness
  • inability to concentrate
  • sleeping problems.


Being reminded of a trauma can trigger upsetting feelings of anxiety and fear. As a result many people with PTSD will attempt to avoid certain reminders such as places or people. They will look to stay busy and keep their minds distracted, and may prefer not to bring up the trauma in conversation. They may also attempt to deal with painful feelings and memories by trying to feel nothing at all. However, this emotional numbing will affect communication with others. As well as repressing memories and feelings, individuals with PTSD are likely to:

  • turn to alcohol or drugs to avoid memories
  • be unable to express affection
  • feel detached and isolated
  • give up on hobbies and interests previously enjoyed.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can be hard to manage. They can affect all aspects of life including health, well-being and relationships. Many sufferers will develop physical ailments as a result of the constant stress. These include headaches, dizziness, chest pains, diarrhoea and stomach aches. It is also common for symptoms of other mental health issues such as depression, phobias, and anxiety to emerge.