Soldier’s heart (Civil War). Shell shock (WWI). Battle fatigue (WWII). Throughout history, the term to describe the mental and emotional trauma experienced by service members has changed – yet the symptoms have remained. Today, we recognize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a trauma- and stress-related disorder. At the Child Study Center, we also recognize that war takes a physical and emotional toll on service members and their families.
PTSD was first officially recognized as a mental health condition in 1980, only five years after the Vietnam War ended. In 1989, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the National Center for PTSD by an act of Congress. Locally, the VA Connecticut Healthcare System has helped numerous veterans cope with their trauma, including feelings of guilt.
“It’s not uncommon for trauma survivors to feel as if they could have done more or that they’re somehow to blame,” says Steven M. Southwick, MD, medical director of the Clinical Neurosciences Division of the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, and a clinician at Yale Child Study Center.
Importantly, military service does not affect just the service member or veteran. Children and other family members cope with the absence of a parent or partner during deployment, as well as frequent moves. Families and children must also navigate the return of a deployed service member, which can be more difficult if the deployed parent has been gone for a long period of time or during critical periods of development. And, children and family members are impacted by events they have never experienced. As a result of the deployed service member’s wartime experiences, children and families are affected by that parent’s symptoms of PTSD and co-occurring symptoms of depression, anger, aggression, self-harm, or substance abuse.
At the Child Study Center, programs like Fathers for Change, developed by Carla Stover, PhD, and the Childhood Violent Trauma Center community partnership, are helping to treat families – both children and caregivers – that experience trauma and family violence. Fathers for Change has even been recognized in Australia as a model program for providing mental health interventions and relationship repair.
While we honor the service of our men and women in uniform, we also recognize the long-lasting impact that this sacrifice has on the families and children of service members and veterans.