PTSD: the effects on servicemen and women and their families
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.
These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.
When servicemen and women return home from a war zone they may be in a geographical position of safety, but having PTSD means they still feel under threat. Coping with stress after the event means, therefore, veterans are unable to relax fully into home life. They may experience flashbacks and symptoms of anxiety.
All of this can leave a person feeling exhausted and depressed. A relentless battle reliving traumatic experiences can sometimes lead to dependency on alcohol or drugs and even suicidal thoughts. Certainly, aggressive outbursts from fear and frustration are common amongst PTSD sufferers who often can’t control their emotions at all.
They may be dogged by learned behaviours that make them feel more able to cope but are actually more restrictive, like always having to sit with their back to the wall.
Living with a person hounded by PTSD can be a frightening experience. In particular, there can be no apparent trigger for a violent outburst and this can be unintentionally directed at a loved one. This is especially alarming for both parties when acts of aggression are carried out when the offender is asleep and suffering from night terrors.
Sadly, when PTSD rears its ugly head in a marriage it is not uncommon for it to end in divorce. Partners can easily become isolated from one another where respective guilt and resentment plays its part.
In the end husbands and wives, plus children and extended family, may begin to feel discouraged by PTSD. It can be difficult not to take abusive behaviour personally and accept a home life that is changed beyond belief. Outwardly, friendships too can break down for everyone who needs help coming to terms with a new way of life. Undoubtedly, difficult behaviour that erupts as a result of PTSD is not always easy for others to understand.
Watching the person you love suffer from the damaging effects of PTSD is distressing. In fact, a partner especially can suffer from secondary stress. They may need to seek treatment for depression themselves and substance abuse can quickly become a crutch used to cope. For some, disappearing under a blanket of despair may seem easier than having to admit that someone they love is causing them great pain.
The memories that prompt PTSD are not easy for the veteran to talk about either, which makes it more difficult to treat. However, support for mental illness is necessary and free online therapy could be used if a person is not yet ready to make a personal visit to someone who can help. When a family is torn between love and protection, it is important that every member seeks the help they need to help find a new balance in their relationships.