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The Effects of PTSD on Families of Military Personnel

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by batgirl, Sep 28, 2007.

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  1. batgirl

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    The Effects of PTSD on Families of Military Personnel

    The level of trauma and stress experienced by military personnel has long been acknowledged in the mental health profession as being eventful enough to substantiate a PTSD diagnosis. Reactions to traumatic incidents such as military combat is individual. Exposure to a traumatic incident may be terrifying for one person, challenging but not traumatic for another, or an exiting adventure for another individual. The difference is in the individual's coping abilities and predispositions to stress. Resilience and individual response plays a large role in the persons coping abilities as well.

    The military society has its own built in stress factors. Relocation and deployment are natural realities for military personnel and their families, and cause stress on the soldier and the family as a whole. Friendships are difficult to sustain, and extended family is not close at hand. Deployment often means long separations from family and friends. Spouses of deployed service persons experience loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger, and physical illness. As a result, military personnel who are deployed experience guilt, loneliness and some depression.

    Post- deployment adjustment coupled with traumatic experiences may exacerbate stressors for the service person and spill onto their families. A period of discomfort, role confusion and renegotiation of relationships may follow the homecoming. Veterans who are parents may feel displaced in their role as a viable person in their family's lives. Children of veterans may exhibit a wide range of regressive behaviors that may tax the returning military parent. Overall there is a period of adjustment for all members in the family of a returning veteran. This may become problematic if the veteran is also struggling with their own psychological distress.

    It may be useful to think of trauma symptoms in PTSD as adaptations to the environment. The symptoms represent the persons attempt to cope with overwhelming feelings. Maladaptive self protective coping strategies include; hyper-vigilance, dissociation, avoidance and numbing. These coping mechanisms may have been effective at some time, however over time they will interfere with the person's ability to function in their environment.

    In recognizing PTSD in general there are symptoms that are specific to the disorder, for military personnel the symptoms are the same. These include re-experiencing traumatic events through vivid memories or flashbacks. Feeling emotionally numb and/or overwhelmed by what would normally be considered every day situations. A diminished interest in performing normal tasks or perusing normal interests. Isolating oneself from family and friends and avoiding social situations. Relying increasingly on alcohol or drugs to get through the day. Emotional reactions include crying uncontrollably, moodiness, irritability, anger, and suspiciousness or easily frightened. Other symptoms include sleep problems and nightmares, guilt and a sense of doom about the future.

    Substance abuse and dependence may be self-medicating strategies for PTSD symptoms. Alcohol, illicit drugs, and the current trend to abuse prescription drugs may be used as a means to cope with and reduce stress. Domestic violence, and other familial dysfunctions seem to be co-morbid with PTSD. Separation from family, impending deployment, combat, and general family stressors may exacerbate existing disorders, may lead to substance abuse in order to cope. The impact of stressful situations, and comorbidity indicates a need for more effective stress management strategies to be implemented for military personnel to reduce the likelihood of PTSD.

    In military families, there is the added fear of the safety of loved ones who may be or already have been deployed as well as the potential challenges of coping uncertainty, and the fears of their loved one being hurt in combat.

    Therapeutic approaches used in treating PTSD include; educating trauma survivors and their families about PTSD and how it effects survivors and their loved ones. Examining and resolving strong feelings such as anger, shame, and guilt within the context of the family system. Create a sense of safety for the person with PTSD and for the family who is impacted by the symptoms of the disorder.

    Family support can play an important role in recovery. It is also useful to help families connect with other families who have experienced similar events and stressors.

    Maintaining successful intimate relationships and positive mental health may help the soldier balance coping skills that would alleviate PTSD symptoms. Sharing feelings openly and honestly with respect and compassion, and strengthening cooperative problem-solving and communication skills can also empower the entire family. Including playfulness, spontaneity, relaxation, and mutual enjoyment while working with professional therapists can strengthen self- esteem, which can act as an antidote to depression and guilt of PTSD.

    Even when necessary and warranted, combat warfare creates serious psychic wounds. With respect and dignity to our military personnel, a strategy for their safety needs to be enacted. It is important to implement treatment that is directed and focused on military personnel and their specific needs. Conventional PTSD treatments are less effective due to the complexity of Military personnel who are having trouble coping. “Proximity” treatment is effective as it facilitates continuing contact with comrades and commanders. Maintaining a dignified role as a soldier is important for the service person. In order to strategically care for military personnel when they are experiencing mental health issues, therapists need to be prepared to handle the specific needs of military personnel and their families.

    Source: Juanita Buck, Tehachapi Times
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