To survive war, soldiers are required to kill human beings they have never met, witness the death of comrades, withstand the loneliness of being continents away from home and family in a strange and unsafe place, and to develop a keen awareness of risks.
For most returning soldiers, there is an emotional aftermath which can range from mild adjustment problems (e.g. trouble sleeping in a bed) to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), reports Lorinda R. Arella, PhD and Rebecca Rooney, PhD.
Drs. Arella and Rooney, licensed psychologists and members of the New York State Psychological Association, specialize in trauma and provide mental health services to veterans and their families.
While a veteran’s return means relief, gratitude, and celebration, most families will also experience significant post-deployment distress. After the exhausting wait for help with the children and the bills and the chores families may experience frustration, resentment, and impatience at how long it is taking for their loved ones to “step up.”
Prior relationship expectations of friend, intimate partner, or parent are also likely to go unmet for longer than the family anticipated. The loneliness may feel even more acute now that their loved ones are home but continue to be emotionally detached and more dependent on comrades than on family. These family dynamics can be much worse when the returning soldier also suffers from depression and/or PTSD.
Drs. Arella and Rooney recommend looking for the following subtle but meaningful signs of emotional distress in the veteran or family member:
– Social withdrawal
– Avoiding certain situations
– Changes in eating habits
– Irritability, short temper, mood swings
– Tearfulness, hopelessness
– Excessive reliance on self-soothing behaviors
– Problems falling asleep
– Excessive sleep
– Unexplained absences
– Unexplained disappearance of money
Reuniting with and reintegrating the family is stressful and can take months or longer. Offer to participate in therapy with the veteran, as long as this would not cause further harm to a family member. Social support is especially powerful therapy: encourage veterans to stay in touch with service-related organizations and friends, even if that means they are not home as much of the time.
Please go here to read the complete article by Drs. Arella and Rooney, and for additional resources for support.
The New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in New York and is the state’s largest association of psychologists. NYSPA’s membership includes 3,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions and affiliations with county psychological associations, NYSPA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare. The Foundation of NYSPA’s primary purpose is to increase public knowledge and understanding of psychology, the psychology profession and the science upon which mental health depends.