Caregiver shift due to post-traumatic stress disorder

Stress disorderWhen a soldier returns home they may be a very different person than when they left, due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, their family –spouses, siblings, children- may also find themselves in an unexpected new role; that of a caregiver. The good news is that this role-reversal can really bring out the best qualities in a person, in particular a greater sense of independence and responsibility. On the other hand, the effects of PTSD on primary care-giving family members are often deceptively minimal, so extra caution should be exercised to avoid caregiver burnout.

PSTD can have a negative influence on a service member’s general life function and wellbeing, which can in turn affect their relationships. In consequence, military members who experience PTSD have an increased risk of unhappiness and dissatisfaction compare to those who don’t. Moreover, parenting and marital problems frequently take place in a household where PTSD has reared its ugly head. PTSD symptoms can seriously hinder an intimate relationship. In time, this situation may be likely to become exacerbated; people with PTSD have occasionally reported a worsening of the symptoms as they age, thought to be caused by health, relationship, social role changes, as well as the fact that they may spend more of their time dwelling upon combat experiences.

As the military member becomes more dependent, their relatives take on more responsibilities around the house, for example paying bills, housework, and caring for children or other extended family members, as well as arranging the service member’s medical appointments. In addition, caregivers need to be on the lookout for PTSD triggers such as large crowds and specific topics of discussion, and keep an eye open for potential relapses and suicide risk. This ripple effect can go beyond the household environment and include children's educational institutions and extracurricular activities.

All of these challenges can take a toll on the caregiver, for instance upsetting their day job’s performance, and thus possibly interfering with their income. In order to avoid caregiver burnout, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has come up with several recommendations, which include encouraging the service member to seek treatment and actively participate in it as well; seeking social support and engaging in positive self-care activities; and researching PTSD, the medical facilities in which the service member may receive treatment, and the routines of the service member.   

Related Read: What is a caregiver burnout?