How Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder Affects Family and Loved Ones

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Hundreds of men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces return home each month. Family, children and friends open their arms and hearts to receive these veterans with love. Soon, however, that joy turns to emotional pain when they learn that the returning vet is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

PTSD: The Signs & Symptoms
1. Difficulty falling or staying asleep
2. Irritability or outbursts of anger
3. Difficulty concentrating
4. Hypervigilance
5. Exaggerated startle response
6. Avoiding close emotional contact with family and friends
7. Avoiding people or places that are reminders of the event
8. Loss of memory about the event
9. Feelings of detachment, numbness
It is difficult to live with someone who has PTSD. A person who is depressed, who has flashbacks and nightmares, who is startled easily, who avoids social situations, who has trouble keeping a job, who lacks emotional intimacy, who becomes violent, or who has a drug and alcohol problem, can take its toll on a family. Fear that the veteran may commit suicide is a big concern for family members as well. Studies show that veterans who have PTSD struggle in their personal and professional lives more than veterans who don’t have this issue. Not only does this cause distress for their spouses, but their children suffer too. In addition, the trauma survivor you once knew and remember may no longer have the traits you loved. As a result, you may fall into depression because you’re frustrated and anxious too.   


Veterans who have PTSD as a result of military sexual assault or combat or any number of things will often become severely depressed and anxious for months or even years following the event. Although females don’t normally see combat when they serve in the military, due to the high number of military sexual assaults and rapes women encounter they are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. To help your loved one with this difficult process, here are some of the things that you should never say to a veteran who is suffering with depression.
  • It’s all in your head
  • Cheer up, it can’t be that bad
  • You would be fine if you had more faith
  • Quit feeling sorry for yourself
  • It could be worse
  • You just need to be stronger
  • Just get over it already
  • Think about all the things you’re grateful for
  • You’re doing this for attention
  • Go out, have some fun!
  • What do you have to be so depressed about?
  • Come on – Snap out of it!
  • Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?
  • We all have things in our lives we’re not happy about

PTSD and Family   

Loved ones who care for a veteran with PTSD has a challenge on their hands. If the veteran has a fear about being around crowds or big gatherings that limits the places the family can go. If the veteran can’t hold down a job, this will affect the family income. If a husband feels less of a man because he can’t perform sexually, he may withdraw, which makes the spouse withdraw emotionally as well. If the veteran can’t connect with her children when she returns home this alienates her from her kids. Since treating PTSD takes time, family members often wonder if their loved one will ever get better. This adds to the stress that the veteran and his or her family already have.    

How You Can Help   

Don’t avoid what is happening to your loved one. If you think the trauma will just “go away” if you don’t talk about it, be assured that it won’t. The trauma survivor and family, especially the spouse, need to realize the truth about what is going on. Then, they should get the help that is needed for the veteran and the family.
Do learn what you can about PTSD. The more you know the better you can understand what your loved one is going through.
Do offer a listening ear, but don’t judge.
Do get the support you need for yourself through counseling.
Do become more aware of how your children are processing things. Make sure they have the help they need.
Do take care of yourself. You’ll be angry and frustrated at times. Get yourself a good support system.