PTSD Affects the Whole Family
Returning to family life after a combat deployment brings challenges for everyone.
A common response
Combat experiences can change how a person responds to family, friends, and surroundings. The survival strategies necessary for combat, including emotional distance and constant alertness, can translate to relationship problems at home. Back home, a combat veteran may have problems sleeping; be jumpy, impatient, and easily irritated; and have a hard time connecting emotionally with friends and family. Loud noises may bring on flashbacks of combat events.
Responses like these are common in the first month or so after returning from a combat deployment, and are usually referred to as “combat stress” symptoms. But if the responses persist and disrupt everyday life, they may be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Effects on spouses
Life with someone who is easily angered, tired, and emotionally disconnected is hard. Spouses and partners of people with untreated PTSD can become depressed and anxious themselves. If a combat veteran is having problems getting to sleep or is having nightmares, the spouse’s or partner’s sleep suffers, too. If the veteran can’t manage angry feelings, a spouse or partner can become a victim of physical and emotional abuse.
If you live with someone who has PTSD, it’s important to:
- Learn as much as you can about combat stress and PTSD. Once you know what the terminology and symptoms are, you will be better able to help your family and yourself.
- Encourage your spouse or partner to get help from a professional.
- Find support for yourself. Remember that as a member of US Family Health Plan you can obtain mental-health services without a referral. Call 1.800.208.9565 for a list of network providers. Go to ptsd.va.gov to learn how to find a support group.
If you have children
For children and teenagers, life with a parent who has untreated PTSD is also hard. A child whose parent is on a combat deployment looks forward to returning to “normal times” when the parent comes home. If a parent has symptoms of PTSD, the child will feel loss and disappointment. The child may also fear that the parent they knew may never really return.
It’s important to help children understand that:
* PTSD is a treatable condition. Even though it is disturbing to the service member and the service member’s family, PTSD is a common response to the uncommon experience of combat. With treatment, the parent will eventually feel better.
* The parent’s symptoms are not the child’s fault.
* Other children have had this same experience and felt the same feelings.
It’s also important to:
- Make sure that the teachers and other supporting adults at your child’s or teenager’s school know that your family is experiencing challenges. Ask them to be alert to any changes in your child’s behavior.
- If your child is feeling persistently sad or anxious, or is having sleep problems that won’t go away, remember that all members of US Family Health Plan, including children and teens, can obtain mental-health services without a referral. Call 1.800.208.9565 for a list of network providers.
Resources for service members and families affected by PTSD continue to grow. They include:
National Center for PTSD
This online resource provides comprehensive, up-to-date information about PTSD for veterans (men and women), families, and professionals who work with them, including:
- An online “PTSD Coaching Tool” that helps people with PTSD work on handling specific trouble areas, such as worry, anger, sleep problems, and trauma reminders.
- “Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families of Military Personnel.”
- Information about effects of PTSD on relationships.
This site provides self-assessments and information about issues related to return from deployment, including PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and alcohol and substance abuse.
Military Kids Connect
In the “Tough Topics” short-video series on this site, real kids and teenagers talk about living with a parent with PTSD. Select an age group on the home page, then go to “Tough Topics,” then “PTSD.”