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In the Spotlight

PTSD and Family Support

Contributed by Shirley Glynn

a veteran discussing with his son about ptsd

Having people to turn to for comfort, advice, and support makes our lives better. It has been shown that people with posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD) tend to do better if they have good family relationships. This also holds true for people who are dealing with other mental health conditions such as:

a veteran having a talk with his family

Even when family relationships are good, the family often struggles when a person they love has serious mental health problems. Family members may be confused. They may feel disappointed, worried, and sad about what is happening with their loved one. As a result stress levels go up and may get very high. This can be hard on the person with the mental health condition and hard on their loved ones.

The VA knows that a strong support system is important to the recovery of a Veteran's mental health. For that reason, the VA has in place programs to strengthen and assist Veterans with mental health issues. VA also provides the family with skills and information. This helps the family better partner with the Veteran in his/her recovery. For instance, the VA requires that all Veterans with serious mental health illnesses be contacted at least yearly by their treatment team. The intent is to find out if the Veteran would like their family involved in their care. It is also done to find out what needs the family might have.

The family may be offered a variety of services. Services may include:

These programs offer information on symptoms, treatments, outcome, and helpful tips. This can make it easier for family members to support the Veteran's recovery and take care of themselves as well. These programs are free of cost to family members.

  • Family Education/Training - helps the family know what to expect and how they can help in the Veteran's recovery. Many VAs offer educational programs such as:

    • Support and Family Education (SAFE)

    • National Alliance on Mental Illness' Family-to-Family

  • Family Consultation - usually involves the Veteran and at least one family member. They meet together with a member of the mental health treatment team for a few sessions. During these sessions they may work on specific issues. This may include the need to find a new residence for the Veteran. It may focus on how to manage a medication concern or a conflict around money issues. The provider helps all participants work together to solve the problem.

  • Family Treatment - is for the Veteran and their family. It is designed to help them develop the skills, attitudes, and knowledge to cope successfully with mental health issues. Here they work as a family on communication and problem solving skills. This helps the Veteran and family work together more effectively. Trained VA staff members provide couples and family therapy to help Veterans and their loved ones. This may include:

    • Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy - may help reduce martial distress in couples having difficulties

    • Behavioral Family Therapy and Multifamily Group Therapy - may help reduce symptoms in people with schizophrenia and other serious psychiatric disorders after an episode of illness.

Most people want to improve their family relationships. Some Veterans can do this without help but there are others that need assistance. If you need help, please contact your VA health care team, they can help. Talk to them about what family programs are available at your local VA health care facility.

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