It’s a pretty plain fact that when one member of a family has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other members of the family feel it in one way or another. This isn’t as terrible as it might sound to some. If one member of the family has a bad day at work, it’s going to affect other members of the family in some way. If one person wins the lottery, that is going to affect other members of the family–hopefully because he shares the wealth and not because he runs away with a supermodel. In any case, families are units. What happens to one person will affect the others. So when someone experiences trauma and develops PTSD, those who love her will feel some effects as well. This guest post by freelance writer Avery Phillips talks about some of the ways we can relieve the burden of that stress, and help the ones we love deal with trauma while also staying healthy ourselves.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.
Treating the Effects of PTSD on Family Members
The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a roaring nightmare for everyone involved.Treating these effects will undoubtedly be unpleasant and sometimes scary. The methods involved with treating stress and anxiety also vary from person to person. It all depends on the severity of their symptoms and the relationship between the sufferer and those trying to help. Learning to care for someone who has PTSD can be difficult, so it’s important to utilize resources available for both PTSD sufferers and their family members.
Treating Loved Ones With PTSD
People with PTSD experience a cluster of symptoms, which may include:
- Avoiding thoughts, memories and places that are related to the trauma.
- Selective traumatic amnesia (forgetting partial or entire traumatic events).
- Perpetually negative expectations about the future and the world.
- Persistent, misattributed blame on themselves or someone else.
- Loss of interest in activities that once interested them.
- Feelings of detachment, as though others can’t understand their pain.
It is indisputably difficult to hear someone you love discuss the incidents that lead to their PTSD, but it is absolutely necessary for trauma survivors to have a supportive network of friends and family with whom they can process the events and attached emotions. Research on PTSD has established that support directly after trauma is recommended in order to accelerate the recovery process.
PTSD is sometimes treatment resistant, which means that those who have it may never approach anyone about their trauma or reach out for professional help. Seeking helps takes courage and a willingness to be absolutely vulnerable, not to mention a belief in the possibility of recovery that is often lacking in those with PTSD. That’s why it’s important for survivors to have loved ones willing to explain that they don’t have to fight their past alone, and for any efforts at recovery to be acknowledged and celebrated, never demonized as “not enough.”
Family members who are helping a loved one work through PTSD should also seek professional help. Learning about PTSD from a professional can help family members understand how and why their loved one developed PTSD. It can also provide an integral emotional outlet.
There are numerous PTSD-specific therapies (which should be done by professionals) that can significantly reduce symptoms and help those suffering after trauma look forward to the future. These therapies can also help loved ones find relief. For example, a wife or husband can often experience secondary PTSD when trying to navigate through a partner’s episode. This can be exhausting for everyone involved.
Attention to Trauma
Trauma response can depend on an individual’s upbringing, personality, biology, and support system. Trauma can be direct or indirect; for example, having an arm bitten off by a shark is an example of direct trauma, while hearing about or watching a loved one die in a violent setting is an example of indirect trauma — both of which may require different PTSD-specific therapeutic approaches.
It’s also worth noting that PTSD is not limited to experiences of excessive violence such as war or assault. As Wake Forest University explains, “Although PTSD is typically associated with soldiers returning from military service, a PTSD diagnosis can happen to anyone who has experienced trauma…In fact, many of the symptoms of PTSD are a part of the body’s natural response to stress.” So with that in mind, PTSD can occur from a number of instances that cause pervasive distress, for instance:
- Sudden, unexpected death of a loved one
- Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and blizzards
- Motor vehicle and other accidents
- Natural or human-caused disasters and accidents
In the United States alone, PTSD United reported that, “an estimated 8% of Americans — 24.4 million people — have PTSD at any given time.” They also go on to point out that one in nine women develop PTSD, meaning they are twice as likely as men to experience symptoms. This is because women are more susceptible to sexual assault and domestic violence, not because the female biological makeup is more prone to PTSD. As a loved one trying to help a child, parent, or spouse navigate the difficult world of PTSD, the sufferer’s trauma (and following symptoms) can be physically and mentally draining and leave individuals with a feeling of helplessness.
Furthermore, a spouse or child can experience secondary PTSD when continuously exposed to episodes and symptoms. Family members can also develop symptoms of depression and anxiety while trying to help a loved one cope with their trauma. Whether trauma is direct or indirect, it threatens a person’s sense of self, their life, and their future. This of course includes the important relationships with family members.
So, how can both survivors and loved ones find some relief and begin working towards a healthier, happier future?
It’s Time to Get Help
If you are a family member supporting someone with PTSD, here are some practical methods that will help with their coping process:
- Call and visit as often as possible — even if they don’t want to talk to anyone.
- Don’t force them to get out; respect their decision, especially if it may trigger them.
- Help them make new memories by creating opportunities for joy while being understanding of their symptoms and triggers.
- Understand there isn’t an overnight solution or a cure.
And here are some useful ways you can take better care of yourself during this strenuous time:
- Visit with a professional therapist together and separately.
- Implement more self-care into your routine — exercise, rest, keep a journal, find or revisit a hobby, and find time to spend with friends.
- Find a support group. You can find other people who have loved ones going through PTSD with the help of social media and online forums. Connecting with others who are going through the same experiences can provide comfort and relieve some stress.
Those with PTSD that go without professionally supervised assistance are at especially high risk, and may develop complications as the result of severe, untreated PTSD. Unsupported trauma survivors can lose their jobs or their homes, requiring public expenditure and creating disruptions in family life that can affect intimate and child-parent relationships. They are also at a heightened risk for suicide.
The experts at University of Nevada, Reno explain, “The ability to be knowledgeable of trauma-informed care is a growing need.” Until there is more research and more resources available for non-veteran individuals to seek out, these PTSD sufferers and their family members will have to continue trying to find relief with the limited options available, which can make these difficult situations even more challenging and detrimental to the well-being of an entire family.