How PTSD Affects Families

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, affects people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Though it’s often associated with military veterans who have returned home from war, anyone who has experienced trauma can develop the symptoms of PTSD. In addition to war veterans, this includes those who have had serious accidents, survivors of physical or sexual assault, and more. PTSD doesn’t just affect the person experiencing its symptoms. Loved ones like spouses and children of someone suffering from PTSD are also deeply affected by this mental health condition.

Symptoms of PTSD

effects of PTSD
Image via Flickr by Kiran Foster

Various symptoms indicate PTSD. Examples include re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyperarousal symptoms.

Typical re-experiencing symptoms include frequent upsetting memories or thoughts about the traumatic event, acting or feeling that the event is occurring again, and recurring nightmares. You may feel strongly distressed when reminded of the traumatic event and experience physical responses such as sweating or a racing heartbeat when you have these reminders.

Avoidance symptoms are anything you do to stay away from those triggering reminders. You may make an effort to avoid feelings, thoughts, and conversations about the event and stay away from people or places that remind you of it. This can lead to feeling distant from other people and losing interest in activities that once were important to you. You may have a hard time recalling important details of the traumatic experience and also have a tough time experiencing positive emotions such as love or happiness.

Hyperarousal, or feeling “keyed up,” also indicates PTSD. These symptoms include finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep, experiencing irritability or outbursts of anger, and having a hard time concentrating. You may feel like you need to constantly stay on guard to danger and startle easily or feel jumpy.

Long-Term Effects of PTSD

PTSD can have significant long-term or chronic effects. Anxiety and depression (including severe depression), drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts and actions can all arise from PTSD. People with PTSD can develop anger management issues due to the recurring anxiety and stress PTSD causes, and they often experience loneliness, as the symptoms of PTSD make them difficult to be around.

However, it’s not just the person who has PTSD who experiences long-lasting affects of the disorder. Other members of the family can be deeply affected as well.

How PTSD Affects Children

Children of parents with PTSD tend to exhibit more behavioral problems than other children. When one member of a family experiences PTSD, other family members suffer from secondary stress. Family members may even experience similar effects to the sufferers of PTSD themselves, including anxiety and depression. This leads to substance abuse for some. These effects can occur in the other parents as well as in children in a family where one parent is grappling with PTSD.

Whether a child is experiencing PTSD themselves as a result of a traumatic event or they’re living with a parent who has PTSD, treatment options can help them. A child who has a learning disability and suffers from the effects of PTSD may need advocacy and accommodations to help them succeed in the classroom. Helping your child access treatment if they are in this situation is important, both now and for their future.

How PTSD Affects Parents

If one member of the family has PTSD, it will have an impact on the whole family unit. This is especially true if a parent has PTSD. Partners of a parent with PTSD experience distress, and PTSD often leads to marital problems and even family violence.

In some cases, PTSD can lead to legal problems. Forensic neuropsychology can diagnose PTSD, and the findings may be used in legal proceedings.

Consequences of PTSD

Because PTSD causes someone to act out in ways that are often hard to understand, making the person who has PTSD seem erratic or exhibit upsetting behavior, the consequences of PTSD touch the entire family. PTSD can have far-reaching effects on both the person who has PTSD and other family members. This makes it difficult for family members to cope with PTSD. Studies show that families where a parent has PTSD experience more anxiety and unhappiness as well as marital problems between parents and behavioral problems in children when compared with families where a parent does not suffer from PTSD.

PTSD Treatment

Fortunately, PTSD treatment can help the person with PTSD and their family members make great strides. Recovery from PTSD can be a long and difficult road, and family support is crucial — no matter which family member experienced the traumatic event.

If a loved one has PTSD, there are many things you can do to help them cope as well as to help yourself understand. Gaining insight into the symptoms of PTSD that your loved one is experiencing and how these symptoms impact their behavior can help you react compassionately. Remind yourself that their behavior does not necessarily equate to their feelings. For instance, the person you love may avoid going out with family and friends in order to avoid upsetting memories or thoughts. This is not a reflection of your relationship but a manifestation of the condition.

It’s also important to know what triggers your family member (or yourself, if you are the one experiencing symptoms). If you know the news at night or a certain place triggers PTSD symptoms, schedule other activities during that time or go to a different place. Changing routines can provide a needed break.

Finally, make sure you get help. This isn’t just for the person experiencing the PTSD symptoms directly. There are support groups for family members of people experiencing PTSD. If your partner is the one with the symptoms, couples counseling can help you figure out a better way to communicate together. You can also get support in finding the best way to encourage your family member to seek help if they’re hesitant to do so.

Though PTSD can feel debilitating both to the person suffering from the condition and their family members, the right treatment can go a long way. Turn to NeuroHealth Arlington Heights for treatment options if you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD.