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Advice for Parents of PTSD Soldiers

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 5/17/2011

Parents anxiously anticipate sons and daughters coming home from war after months or years. These brave returning veterans may have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so they need understanding and support more than ever. Parents of PTSD soldiers should be cognizant of the advice below to help.

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    Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Most people have heard that veterans returning home from war face a high incidence of experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The likelihood of suffering from PTSD rises with the more combat soldiers see, if they have been shot, if they have seen a friend being shot, and if they have witnessed death. Other factors that can lead to PTSD include the type of job soldiers have in war, the politics of the war, the location of the fighting, and the type of enemy faced. Women in the military are at greater risk for PSTD due to higher incidences of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

    The symptoms of PTSD may begin soon after a soldier comes home from war, or they may appear months or years after the return. This disorder can cause veterans to avoid talking, participating in group activities, and spending time with others. Symptoms may appear and disappear over years and can include:

    • reliving the event through nightmares and flashbacks,
    • avoiding people or situations that bring back memories of the event,
    • having difficulties expressing emotions or feeling numb, and;
    • feeling jittery or hyper, having trouble concentrating and sleeping and always being on guard.
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    Parents of PTSD Soldiers

    When a son or daughter with PTSD comes home from war, or later develops the disorder, parents can take these steps to help him or her cope.

    • Educate yourself about PTSD. The more known about the disorder and its effects, the better you can help a son or daughter with PTSD.
    • Accompany your veteran to doctor visits to keep informed about therapy and medication, and to offer support.
    • Even if he or she withdraws, which is a symptom of the disorder, tell your loved one you will listen and will be ready to help when needed.
    • Plan family activities, and exercise together. Exercise relieves stress and promotes physical and mental health.
    • Develop a support system of family and close friends to help deal with changes and stress.

    A veteran with PTSD may be angry about many things. Since talking to an angry person is difficult, a time-out system should be developed. To set up a system:

    • Agree that a family member can call a time-out at any time by using a hand signal or saying a word.
    • Immediately end the discussion when any person calls a time-out.
    • Agree to tell one another where you will be and what you will be doing during the time-out. Inform them when you will return.
    • During the time-out, think calmly about the situation and how to solve the problem. Do not focus on anger or other emotions.
    • When the discussion resumes, be clear and concise.
    • Stay positive and avoid blame or negativity
    • Be a good listener. Avoid arguing or interrupting, but repeat what is said to confirm understanding. Ask questions for clarification and for further information.
    • Explain your feelings in words, and help your family member to explain their feelings in words by asking direct questions.
    • Ask how to help, but do not offer advice unless asked.

    If anger ever leads to violence or abuse, family members should remove themselves and children from the situation. Help should be called immediately.

    Supporting a returning son or daughter with PTSD can be very difficult. Parents of PTSD soldiers should remember to care for themselves and reach out to others for help. By taking care of themselves, parents will better help sons and daughters cope with life after war.

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    References

    Rutgers University. “PTSD Clinic." anxietyclinic.rutgers.edu/About%20Us/PTSD_FAQ.html

    United States Department of Veterans Affairs. “Helping a Family Member who has PTSD." www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/helping-family-member.asp