Similar to cancer and cigarettes, you don’t have to have PTSD to be affected by it.
By Brandon Lilly
Parents who have PTSD may not be the only ones in the family in need.
Research by Jennifer Price of Georgetown College in Kentucky shows children living with parents who have PTSD are at risk of suffering from a condition called Secondary Traumatic Stress, or STS. Symptoms of the condition mirror those of PTSD, including extreme mood changes, irritability, anxiety, and depression. “Younger children may present with behavioral problems or difficulty attaching to their parents, especially the parent with PTSD,” Price said. “Nightmares are common, and anxiety can manifest as school avoidance.”
Price said older children often have difficulty establishing friendships and act out in school. Another symptom that Price calls “Parentified” leads to children avoiding their inner distress and taking on the role of a parent in the household—an experience widespread for the eldest siblings. Price believes that open communication within the family is critical to helping children who are suffering from STS. She said it is essential that the parent with PTSD receives treatment. “But some parents may not realize that their child is also in need,” Price said.
Younger children may benefit from play therapy as a way to express their emotional reactions, and individual therapy can be useful for older children. The best treatment, according to Price, is family counseling. “That way children understand what the parent is going through,” she said.
Price believes that PTSD is a very treatable disorder. Plenty of therapeutic approaches have demonstrated effectiveness. But sometimes it starts at home.