Children Getting More PTSD, Less TLC From Parents Returning From War
Memories of war haunt not only returning soldiers, but also the children they thought they left safely at home.
Bumper stickers say insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children. Post-traumatic stress disorder works in reverse. Particularly in military families, children get it from their parents.
Isolation, depression and trauma are among the symptoms soldiers pass on to their kids, according to preliminary results from a Canadian study.
Deborah Harrison, a sociology professor at the University of New Brunswick and one of the report's lead researchers, tells Canada's Globe and Mail that teenagers living with parents with PTSD also risk physical abuse, emotional neglect and unpredictable rage.
"It changes their life and it completely changes the situation at home," she tells the newspaper. "It's a crisis like any other kind of major illness or violence in the home."
Researchers interviewed students at a Canadian high school in a town near a large military base. Harrison tells the Globe and Mail she wants to keep the name of the base a secret until she and her colleagues present more findings in March.
Her preliminary work involved looking at four teenagers whose fathers and stepfathers completed multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, Somalia or Bosnia, or were involved in other missions over the last decade.
Three of the fathers developed PTSD following their tours in Afghanistan three years ago.
Harrison's research concludes the men's parenting abilities suffered. Some of the teens had to assume adult responsibilities in the home.
A girl called "Rebecca" told researchers her father developed severe PTSD two years after his return from Afghanistan and was hospitalized after attempting suicide. She said he became so violent at times that the family had to call police and watch as he was led away in handcuffs.
Teens said their fathers became strangers.
"It's at times a grieving process," Rebecca told interviewers. "Like, at some point you lose that person who's raised you all your life and it's replaced with someone you don't like at all."
Greg Lubimiv, a counselor at the Phoenix Centre in Petawawa, Ont., tells the Globe and Mail he sees more and more military kids suffering from the fallout of their parents' emotional crises.
Children and spouses go through guilt, anger, frustration, sorrow, confusion and other emotions as they grapple with the veteran's PTSD, he adds.
"One of the things that does break down when you have a parent with a mental health disorder is the parenting," Lubimiv tells the newspaper. "What the family goes through is very similar to a grief process and yet they're not dead ... They're no longer who they were."
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.