Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military Families

Post traumatic stress disorder can occur after a person has been through a trauma. A traumatic event is inclusive of anything from a car accident, to witnessing a death, being involved in a natural disaster, or involvement in an act of violence towards oneself or someone else. It is a person’s emotional and mental reaction to the event that determines whether someone develops PTSD.

Going through a trauma is not rare. Women tend to experience trauma in the form of sexual assault and/or child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.

According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will develop PTSD in their lives. About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. About 10 of every 100 women develop PTSD in comparison to 4 out of every 100 men. In 2012 there were more suicides by combat military than deaths while in combat, and 20% of national suicides were completed by veterans.

Families are often effected by loved one who have PTSD. For the purposes of this post, we will be concentrating on military families specifically. Someone who is diagnosed with PTSD will find it difficult to function regularly as a parent or partner. The impact of these changes can lead to unmet family needs and increased stress within the family.

Because people with PTSD, especially those who were involved in military combat, are easily startled and have nightmares, family members can be easily scared by differences in reactions. Avoidance of social situations can also take a toll on other family members. There is a higher likelihood of family violence and marital problems as well. Coping skills for PTSD and the symptoms of depression, anxiety, guilt, and avoidance can lead to health problems such as drinking, drugs, smoking, and not exercising etc. Family members who are helping their loved one with PTSD often forget to help themselves as well.

Children are also impacted by family members with PTSD. Children often do not understand their parents symptoms and new behaviors. If a parent is re-experiencing traumatic events, they themselves are likely feeling scared, and children often feel scared as well. Children may also worry about their parent and want to take care of them but not know how. Children can respond in ways that include: behaving like their parent as a way to connect, acting more like an adult in the situation, behavior problems – particularly at school and in other relationships, as well as increases in anxiety and worriedness. Children have a higher possibility of developing secondary PTSD.

To help children, remember to keep the conversation open to them. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings. If they are identifying trying to take care of their parent, make the roles clear so that they remain responsible for age appropriate things. Depending on the child, their own individual therapy may also be beneficial.

Military families have additional stressors such as deployment, missing out on family milestones such as a birth of child or developmental milestones, and not knowing if a family member will return home due to a huge lack of communication and combat situations.

How to Help Your Loved One

Educate yourself on PTSD, offer to go to appointments for medical and or psychiatric reasons with your family member, be open to talking as well as refrain from pressuring them to talk, plan normalized family activities like going for a walk or the movies, and encourage contact with friends and family to keep up a good support system.

It is not uncommon for a family member to not want your help. Withdrawal is normal, so give space but remain available for when the moment feels better for them.

Take care of yourself! Don’t give up on your outside life and your own family and friends whom you can lean on for support. You cannot change someone so don’t feel bad, guilty, or responsible if things do not happen quickly. Get professional help for yourself and family if needed.

Visit U.S. Veteran Affairs for more information and tips on how to help your family member.

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