What is the Role of Vicarious Trauma on Children’s Health in Families of Veterans?

posted in Mental Health, Veterans

1 Dealing with mental health issues is a primary concern for veterans and families of veterans. The reality is they deal with a lot of challenging scenarios while deployed and come home to learn how to manage real-life again. This time, they are also coping with mental health disorders, combat trauma, and more. Vicarious trauma impacts the children of veterans and their mental health. Find out more about it and how to support families struggling with a loved one’s diagnoses.

Military Deployment and Mental Health

Taking care of little ones in the wake of deployment can feel like the ultimate challenge. Other people may have taken care of the children while the veteran served but now they are thrust back into the role at home. There are many ways mental health can manifest in both men and women who struggle with mental health issues. Physical issues may include TBIs or combat injury. There may also be PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, anger, and other issues to contend with. Children end up absorbing all of these big emotions and struggle to cope with them going forward. Maybe the parent distances themselves from the loved ones or isolates themselves. Perhaps they feel shame and guilt so they hide or they develop substance use disorder. 

Struggling with Emotions

Many veterans who return home struggle with emotional regulation. From the trauma they experienced to time away, they are not always sure how to relate to loved ones any longer. This disconnect makes it hard to find a way to be intimate with loved ones and shows they care. Children and people in the home can be affected by the veteran’s trauma and the challenges they face integrating into civilian life after being away. On top of this, veterans can struggle with:

  • Anger
  • Unexpected flashbacks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Struggles with eating healthy or eating appropriate amounts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Financial woes

As the years go by, veterans can struggle with these issues and not be sure how they are going to deal with it. They deal with it through using substances, mental health issues that arise, or trying to cope with it but never seeking treatment. Children end up struggling with symptoms of mental health issues, too, and the lack of strong parental figures in their parent following deployment. Emotional regulation can be difficult but there is hope if someone seeks help for their challenges. 

Military Families and Stress

First-hand trauma is difficult for others to hear about. It can trigger them to feel symptoms of mental health issues. Counselors and others who experience these stories start to exhibit similar symptoms after a while.  This growing challenge for military families often leave children and loved ones grappling with the legacy of their parent’s deployment. Parents who become impatient and angry with their kids can cause them to have overwhelming emotions later in life. Children are at great risk of being traumatized by their loved one’s own experiences and it gets passed down vicariously through them without realizing it has happened. Genes and epigenetics say that events have the ability to evoke change in the way the body functions. Children who face trauma early on often struggle later on. 

Family Therapy

The best treatment for veterans is family therapy. While getting treatment for substance use disorders, veterans can invite family to receive treatment. They should also be seeking their own family therapy outside of treatment and find individual treatment for children and loved ones. It is not the veteran’s fault that loved ones suffer from some of the consequences of their deployment. However, it is necessary that loved ones seek appropriate help for their issues and struggles within the family. Families need a lot and they may not realize how big a difference it makes until they receive the help. 

Bridge of Hope

The goal for veterans when they return home is to seek support from others who understand what they are going through. Veterans who struggle with this return home often have mental health and physical challenges to overcome. With the right treatment, they can find healing. The family should be involved in getting help so they all work together towards the same goals. When the family is not working together, it makes it harder for the veteran to feel they are making progress in recovery. Recovery from addiction and mental health conditions takes time. It is not a cure or fix. There will be hard moments intermixed with good. The key is to make sure they have community and family support for the journey. Taking time to find good treatment means making sure they are thriving the best they can where they are. There is no quick fix for veterans who were deployed and return home with mental health or substance use disorders. The fix requires spending time together and focusing on the health of the family, as well as the individual, to seek treatment that will best support all involved. The family dynamic will be complicated by everyone’s unique responses to the situation but it is necessary everyone gets involved in treatment and tries to seek help separately and together to find hope for the journey of recovery.

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