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The Effect of PTSD on the Family


Updated January 30, 2013

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There is no doubt that the symptoms of PTSD can have a major negative impact on a person's life; however, it's important to remember that PTSD can also affect the lives of loved ones and family. Family members may find it hard to understand what someone with PTSD is going through, and they may also feel helpless in terms of doing anything to help their loved one feel better. In addition, problems associated with PTSD, such as substance use, may disrupt the family environment, resulting in high levels of stress for family members.

Listed below are some articles that cover a variety of topics that may be relevant to family members of someone with PTSD.

Understanding a Loved One's PTSD

Studies have shown that families in which a parent has PTSD are characterized by more anxiety, unhappiness, marital problems, and behavioral problems among children in the family when compared to families in which a parent doesn't have PTSD. This finding is not entirely surprising: PTSD symptoms can cause a person to act in ways that may be hard for family members to understand. Their behavior may appear erratic and strange, or be upsetting. The family can either positively or negatively impact a loved one's PTSD symptoms, so the first step in living with and helping a loved one with PTSD is learning about the symptoms of PTSD, and understanding how these symptoms may influence behavior.

Caregiver Burden and PTSD

Receiving support from others is very important during times of stress. The seeking of support from another person is a healthy and effective way of dealing with a stressful event. During times of stress, loved ones may often be the people that someone seeks out for support. It's important to realize that providing support requires energy and can be stressful: it can be upsetting and stressful for a partner or spouse to see someone they care about in a state of distress or struggling with a problem. Most times, a partner or spouse will be able to provide support without feeling too taxed themselves, but when the stress is constant and support is frequently needed, "caregiver burden" may occur. Learn more about caregiver burden and how to cope with it here.

PTSD among Childhood Cancer Survivors and Their Parents

Each year, cancer affects thousands of children and their families. In fact, for every 10,000 children in the United States, approximately 1 to 2 will develop cancer, with leukemia being one of the most common type of cancer among children. Over the past two decades, advances in cancer treatments have fortunately led to many children's being able to survive their battles with cancer, but that may only be the first step. Having cancer can have long-lasting effects on the mental health of a child and his or her parents. This article reviews research on the effect of childhood cancer on the mental health (especially with regard to PTSD) of the child and his or her parents.

PTSD Among Children and the Parents of Children with Asthma

Asthma is another medical condition that can lead to the experience of a traumatic event and potentially PTSD. Asthma is one of the most common childhood chronic illnesses, and it can have a tremendous negative impact on a child's life — and may even result in death. This article presents the results from one of the only studies looking at the effect of a life-threatening asthma attack on the child having the attack, as well as the parents of the child. As might be expected, parents of adolescents who had a life-threatening asthma episode showed signs of PTSD. You can read more about this interesting study and its results here.

PTSD and Relationship Violence

Intimate partner abuse happens more than you may think. National estimates indicate that, in a period of one year, 8 to 21% of people in a serious relationship will have engaged in some kind of violent act aimed at an intimate partner. It has been found that men and women who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional neglect in childhood may be more likely to be abusive in intimate relationships when compared to people without a history of childhood trauma. In addition, people with PTSD have been found to more likely be aggressive, and to engage in intimate partner abuse, than people without a PTSD diagnosis. Learn more about this connection here, as well as where you can go for help if you are a victim of domestic violence.

Stress among Children of OEF/OIF Veterans

Studies examining the psychological impact of soldiers deployed in Iraq for the Iraq War are growing. Their findings are showing that many returning service members are showing signs of PTSD, depression, and alcohol use problems. However, we often don't pay enough attention to the family members of these soldiers and what they are going through. Having a family member stationed afar can be stressful, as those back home may only infrequently hear from their loved one. They may not know what kind of dangers their loved one is experiencing, and they may be constantly exposed to upsetting news stories about the war, which may only add to their worry. This stress may be particularly great among the children of those serving. Learn more about the experience of stress among children of OEF/OIF veterans in this article.

Coping with the Stress of a Veteran Returning Home

It has been found that many OEF/OIF veterans are developing psychological difficulties as a result of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Coming home from the war, however, can also be a major source of stress for both the veteran and his or her family. The level of social support a veteran experiences from his or her family and community can have a major impact on a veteran's adaptation to being home. Learn more about the stress of homecoming, as well as ways of coping with this stress.

Coping with a Loved One's PTSD During the Holidays

The holidays are usually a joyous occasion: a time for families to come together and spend time with each other. But when a family member has PTSD, the holidays may become a stressful time for all involved. A family member's PTSD does not have to negatively impact the holiday season, though, and there are things you can do to make sure the holiday season is pleasant and enjoyable for everyone. This article provides some tips that may help family members lessen the stress of the holiday season.
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