PTSD Can Be Rough on Partners of Vets, 1st Responders

New research suggests the partners of first responders, health care workers and veterans may also carry a burden if their loved ones develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a timely finding given the protracted battle against COVID-19.

The Australian study explored the multidimensional nature of experiences of being an intimate partner of a veteran or emergency service first responder with PTSD.

Investigators discovered recognition of the needs of wives and intimate partners in supporting their recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often absent. Researchers from Flinders University found the ways in which partners contribute to their loved ones’ recovery, and their own need for support, are not well understood.

Researchers have acknowledged that the impact of PTSD can reach far beyond the individual suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, affecting the lives of friends and family caring for someone with PTSD. Caregiver burden and stress are common when a loved one has PTSD. Caregivers may feel guilty if they take time for themselves; however, it is vitally important to provide support for caregivers.

Living with and caring for someone with PTSD is stressful, and attention to the caregiver is vitally important, as the caregiver is also the primary source of support needed by those living with PTSD.

In the new study, researchers interviewed 22 partners of Australian veterans, paramedics, fire and police officers to determine partner’s feelings and thoughts. Their analysis revealed that the key concern of the participants was to protect their family unit and the intimate relationship.

“We looked at partners in these groups because of the occupational exposure to trauma they experience,” said Flinders Behavioral Health researcher Professor Sharon Lawn, project lead and author.

“The key finding was that partners feel invisible in recovery. They live with the trauma that their partners experience but are still not acknowledged by health services or professional organizations (such as Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Police, etc) as a vital part of the person’s support system.”

Feeling invisible was the barrier respondents felt to receiving the support they crave, said co-investigator Paula Redpath, a consultant psychotherapist and discipline lead at Flinders Behavioral Health.

“The participants’ key concerns were to protect their family unit and relationship with their partner, showing many ways in which they managed, coped and adapted to myriad changes brought by the PTSD,” she said.

However, many perceive that the strength of their commitment to their relationship, their contribution to the recovery of the veteran, and to what they do every day for the family, is largely invisible to the organizations and healthcare providers available to these occupations, the researchers conclude.

The article appears in the journal Health and Social Care in the Community.

Source: Flinders University/EurekAlert

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