Since 9/11, more than 2 million men and women have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict zones as part of the war on terror. With up to 20 percent now reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), both they—and their families—must cope with the invisible wounds of war. Symptoms of PTSD can include irritability, isolation, agitation, jumpiness, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and substance abuse. All of these can take a toll not just on the person with PTSD, but on their loved ones as well.
Jo Sornborger, PsyD, director of psychological health for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health Operation Mend program, specializes in the unique mental health needs of veterans and their families. Operation Mend provides advanced surgical and medical treatment, as well as comprehensive psychological support, for post-9/11 service members, veterans, and their families.
Too often, Sornborgor says, families tend to continuously focus most of their physical, emotional, and mental resources into taking care of the family member with PTSD, inadvertently creating an imbalance that can constrain the veteran’s healing and further stress the family.
Sornborger points out, however, that a psychological injury such as post-traumatic stress does not mean a person is incapable of contributing to the family’s ability to function as a unit.
“It might seem easier to avoid including the injured vet into the daily routines of household, but this strategy comes at a significant cost to the whole family in the long run. It often leaves them drained of internal resources, resentful, and can erode the self-worth of the injured veteran,” said the licensed clinical psychologist. “If the family recalibrates the resource distribution, the household will run more efficiently, be more cohesive, and everyone will feel like they belong and have a purpose.”
This article was adapted from information provided by UCLA, Health Sciences.