By Sara Johnson, CEO — Mission 22
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone, but since terrifying events trigger this mental health condition, those who have served in the military are at high risk of developing it. However, the effects of PTSD aren’t just felt by people who receive the official diagnosis — their family members are also affected. Dysfunctional dynamics can even develop as spouses and children struggle to cope.
If support is provided in the right way, veterans and their families can recover together. In this article, I'll explain how PTSD affects veterans and their families, as well as how they can heal as a team.
How PTSD affects families
The impact of PTSD extends beyond the individual with the diagnosis, affecting the entire family unit. This is why we recognize the importance of a family-centered approach to support. Family members, being closest to the individual, often notice the changes in mood and behavior that may indicate symptoms of PTSD. However, understanding and navigating this condition can be challenging for them.
It is common for family members to experience a range of difficult emotions such as fear, anger, and guilt. They may struggle with their own mental health, including depression, and may even adjust their activities and lifestyles to accommodate their loved ones with PTSD. Some family members may take on additional responsibilities, exceeding their own capacities and leading to resentment or feeling invisible. They often put their own needs aside to ensure the smooth functioning of the family unit.
Children, in particular, are profoundly impacted by PTSD within the family. They are more susceptible to developing PTSD themselves, especially when a parent is affected. Children see the world through their parents' eyes, and if a parent experiences symptoms like irritability or hypervigilance, it can shape the child's perception of the world and their interactions with others. This can result in challenges at school and difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships later in life.
How families can heal together
Family members play a vital role in supporting their loved ones with PTSD through treatment and recovery, contributing significantly to their healing process. However, it's crucial to recognize that other family members also require support. Fortunately, the close bonds within the family can serve as a source of healing, and tackling issues together as a team is essential.
The first step is to learn about PTSD as much as possible. By becoming familiar with the disorder’s symptoms, family members can better understand and empathize with their loved one's experiences. This knowledge forms the foundation for a supportive and understanding environment.
During times of conflict, practice effective communication skills. Instead of responding with anger, implement taking a “pause” which can help de-escalate tense situations. When everyone is ready to resume the discussion, it's important to avoid blaming language and focus on finding solutions for the future.
Family therapy can be incredibly beneficial, ensuring that all family members have the opportunity to express their experiences and be seen and heard. No one should be left out, even if they appear fine on the surface. Family therapy provides a safe space for open dialogue and facilitates the healing of the entire family unit.
Making healthy lifestyle changes that support the well-being of all family members is another valuable approach. For example, families can collectively decide to shift to nutritious homemade meals rather than relying on processed foods. Taking the time to eat together promotes connection and combats feelings of isolation. Engaging in fun family activities such as biking, hiking, or canoeing not only promotes physical exercise but also strengthens the family bond.
In addition to physical activities, families can adopt practices that focus on promoting a healthier mental state. Incorporating meditation or mindfulness exercises into daily routines can prove effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Moreover, practicing gratitude as a family can boost well-being and foster a sense of connection among family members.
By embracing these approaches, families can create an environment that supports their loved one's healing journey and enhances the overall well-being of the entire family unit.
Take on PTSD as a team
The involvement of a veteran's family is paramount to their successful recovery process. However, it is equally important to recognize that the entire family unit can benefit from support services and adopting healthier lifestyle choices. Instead of viewing PTSD solely as an individual issue, families can make a mindset shift and approach it collectively. This shift in perspective can transform the challenges of PTSD into an opportunity to forge even stronger and closer bonds within the family.
When families come together and address PTSD as a team, they position themselves for a healthier and happier future. By embracing the shared responsibility of supporting their loved one, families can create an environment that fosters healing and growth for everyone involved. This approach acknowledges that the effects of PTSD ripple through the family unit and that each member's well-being is interconnected.
Through open communication, empathy, and a commitment to understanding, families can navigate the complexities of PTSD together. Seeking support services, such as family therapy or counseling, can provide a safe space for shared healing and growth. These services enable families to address underlying issues, improve communication, and develop effective coping strategies as a united front.
Furthermore, making healthier lifestyle choices as a family can have a positive impact on everyone's well-being. This may include engaging in regular physical activities together, adopting nutritious eating habits, and practicing stress-reduction techniques. By incorporating these changes into their daily lives, families create a supportive environment that promotes overall wellness and resilience.
Ultimately, by approaching PTSD as a collective challenge, families can transform adversity into an opportunity for profound personal growth and stronger bonds. Together, they can create a future that is marked by resilience, understanding, and unwavering support for one another.
Sara Johnson, CEO of Mission 22, grew up in a family of warriors and has seen firsthand the way battle affects those who serve. What started as a personal mission to support her Green Beret husband’s transition out of the military has turned into a national charge to end Veteran suicide in America. A Daughter of the Revolution whose family members have served in every conflict since the revolutionary war, she has taken up the family torch by developing an innovative approach to aid veterans.