14th Feb 2023
Acute stress disorder is a psychological response to a traumatic or upsetting event. This is more than the expected natural response to such an event; symptoms can last between four days and four weeks. 
Acute stress disorder goes beyond the typical reaction of your child or teenager to a traumatic or upsetting event. They may experience nightmares and go out of their way to avoid places or people they find triggering.
These events can include the death of a loved one, assault, serious harm, or a near-death experience. Such events don’t have to be directly experienced; acute stress disorder can also be caused by learning about the event, witnessing it, or being exposed to specific details. 
Children and teenagers with acute stress disorder display similar symptoms to PTSD. However, they do not last as long. Individuals with symptoms that last longer than four weeks may meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. 
Teenagers and children who have previously been exposed in any form to traumatic events are the most susceptible to developing acute stress disorder . Additional risk factors include: 
The criteria for a diagnosis of acute stress disorder according to the DSM-5  states an individual must have experienced, or indirectly exposed to, a traumatic event as well as displaying at least 8 of the following symptoms:
These symptoms will start no later than four days after the traumatic event and stop after four weeks. If they continue after four weeks, they may meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis .
Acute stress disorder is in reaction to a traumatic event. Common causes include:  
These do not need to have been experienced first-hand. Acute stress disorder in teenagers can be in reaction to these events happening to a family member or close friend and being told about the traumatic event long after it occurred.
The exact cause of why some people develop acute stress disorder is unknown . It may be a result of increased brain activity which causes a different response to a traumatic experience than normal .
‘Fear conditioning’ is the psychological response where a traumatic event is associated with something (for example, a smell or a sound) or somewhere. Similar responses to the traumatic event can be triggered in people with acute stress disorder in future encounters with these associations .
Acute stress disorder may resolve itself over time, but treatment can prevent more severe stress-related disorders from developing. A doctor or mental health professional may advise a combination of treatments depending on the symptoms experienced and the traumatic event.
A mental health professional may also consider other conditions similar to acute stress disorder, such as :