Families and Caregivers – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Families and Caregivers - PTSD

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents or physical or sexual assault. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD.

Soldiers with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms:

  • Reliving the trauma, such as becoming upset when confronted with a reminder or thinking about the trauma when they are trying to do something else
  • Staying away from places or people that remind them of the trauma, isolating themselves from other people or feeling numb
  • Startling easily and feeling on-guard and irritable

In addition to the symptoms described above, there are clear biological changes that can occur with PTSD. Soldiers with PTSD may often develop disorders such as depression, substance abuse, difficulty with memory and cognition and other physical and mental health problems. These problems can impair a person’s ability to function normally in social or Family life, which may lead to occupational instability, marital problems and Family problems.

Getting Help for Your Soldier

The first step to getting help is recognizing the symptoms. As a Family member or Caregiver, you may notice changes such as isolative behavior, irritability and increased alcohol intake. If you know your Soldier is struggling with PTSD, the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) Cadre such as the primary care manager (PCM), nurse case manager (NCM) and social worker can provide help. As a part of the Soldier’s healing team, Family members and Caregivers are encouraged to make contact with these individuals to ensure the Soldier gets the dedicated support that he/she needs.

Self Care

Family members and Caregivers frequently devote themselves totally to those who they care for and in the process, may neglect their own needs. Pay attention to yourself. Watch your diet and exercise and get plenty of rest. Take time to do things that feel good to you, and try to maintain routines.

If you feel overwhelmed and need help, seek professional help early. Outreach centers such as Military OneSource and Defense Centers of Excellence are available to assist you.

Additional Resources

For additional information on PTSD, contact us or visit the following resources:

Frequently Asked Questions

How is PTSD treated?
What is a “flashback?”
Why is Family or Caregiver support important?

How is PTSD treated?

PTSD is treated by various forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and pharmacotherapy (medication). There is no single best treatment, but some treatments appear to be quite promising, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

What is a “flashback?”

As the name implies, in a flashback, a person may feel or act as though a traumatic event is happening again. There are a number of ways in which people may relive a trauma. They may have upsetting memories of the traumatic event. These memories can come back when they are not expecting them. At other times the memories may be triggered by a traumatic reminder such as when a combat Veteran hears a car backfire, a motor vehicle accident victim drives by a car accident or a rape victim sees a news report of a recent sexual assault. These memories can cause both emotional and physical reactions. Sometimes these memories can feel so real it is as if the event is actually happening again. This is called a “flashback.” Reliving the event may cause intense feelings of fear, helplessness, and horror similar to the feelings they had when the event first took place.

Why is Family or Caregiver support important?

The primary source of practical and emotional support for the Soldier is likely to be his or her Family or Caregiver. Families and Caregivers can help the Soldier cope with life’s stressors by providing companionship and a sense of belonging, which can help counter the Soldier’s feeling of separateness because of his/her experiences. If the Soldier agrees, it is important for Family members and Caregivers to participate in the Soldier’s PTSD treatment, which may include listening to your service member’s traumatic experience. It is also important to talk about how the PTSD is affecting the Soldier’s relationships, and how you and those around your Soldier can help. It is encouraged for Family members and Caregivers to talk with treatment providers on how they can help in the recovery effort.

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