For Veteran Families and Friends

Family members and friends provide the first line of support for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) members and Veterans living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here, family and friends includes a broad range of individuals from partners and children, to parents, siblings, and extended family, as well as those close to us whom we choose to call family or friends.

As a family member or friend, you may not have witnessed the traumatizing event(s) that your loved one lived through, but you can often experience the consequences. Without supports, you may struggle to provide support for your family member or friend with PTSD. You may feel isolated, exhausted, and stressed in your own right and need your own supports and resources.

A webpage dedicated to coping strategies and other self-care tools for Veterans experiencing PTSD will be available soon.

Coming in Fall 2021 – a webpage dedicated to resources and supports for Children and Youth living in families experiencing PTSD. Sign up for our mailing list for a notification that the page is live.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can affect both your mental health and your physical health. It can be caused by a single trauma or many traumatic events.

Each person’s response to a traumatic event is unique and two people living through the same event may process it differently. Your family member or friend’s response depends on factors like their life histories, current situation and emotional characteristics. There is no weakness or fragility in feeling traumatized by witnessing or experiencing something horrific.

Your family member or friend will be diagnosed with PTSD by a healthcare provider if they are showing symptoms in each of the following four categories for a period of time longer than one month:

  • Re-experiencing the feelings and sensations felt at the time of the trauma,
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma,
  • Negative thoughts or feelings about themselves, those around them, or a situation or location,
  • Being on edge or reactive, either physically or emotionally, without reason (also known as hyper-arousal).

Learn more about some of the things your family member or friend may be feeling if they experience PTSD.


Common Causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD can emerge from any number of traumatic situations. These may include:

  • Military service in a conflict zone,
  • Witnessing atrocities while on deployment,
  • Incidents during service in uniform, such as domestic operations or Aid to the Civil Power,
  • Experiencing a natural disaster and providing rescue/relief support afterwards,
  • Terrorism or mass violence,
  • Accidents,
  • Intimate partner or family violence,
  • Sexual violence.

In addition to these traumatic situations, emerging evidence shows that oppression, such as discrimination and attacks based on your family member or friend’s gender, sexual orientation, race, and culture may lead to PTSD.

Experiencing moral injury can also increase your family member or friend’s risk for developing PTSD. Moral injury refers to the psychological, social and spiritual impact of events in which a person performs, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that conflict with one’s own deeply held moral beliefs and values. To learn more about moral injury, visit this webpage.


Resources

How families are impacted

If your loved one is affected by PTSD, it can impact everyone in your family. It is important to be aware of the potential impacts, so that you can better understand what you are experiencing, and seek additional support, if needed.

Top 10 ways to help someone with PTSD

Having a loved one affected by post-traumatic mental health issues [post-traumatic stress] can impact everyone in your family. It is important to be aware of the various potential impacts, so that you can better understand what you are experiencing, and seek additional support, if needed.

When the going gets particularly tough

While our loved ones can learn to manage many of the symptoms of PTSD, some are harder to navigate. These include sleep disruptions, violent outbursts, being in crowded places, and managing anger. Our suggestions will work for some but not for everyone, as each situation is unique. Resources are provided for further learning. Reach out for support if you need to.

How to support children

PTSD can affect every member of the family, including children.

Voices of Veterans

They have important information, ideas, and feelings to share with family members to help them better understand and support them on their path to wellness.

Family Resources and Programs

List of various resources available for Military and RCMP Families in Canada.

References

WHAT IS PTSD?

COMMON CAUSES OF PTSD

  • Chew, N. W., Lee, G. K., Tan, B. Y., Jing, M., Goh, Y., Ngiam, N. J., … & Sharma, V. K. (2020). A multinational, multicentre study on the psychological outcomes and associated physical symptoms amongst healthcare workers during COVID-19 outbreak. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 88, 559-565.
  • Litz, B. T., Stein, N., Delaney, E., Lebowitz, L., Nash, W. P., Silva, C., & Maguen, S. (2009). Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy. Clinical psychology review, 29(8), 695-706.
  • National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). (2019). Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/print/understandingptsd_booklet.pdf
  • Shay, J. (1994). Achilles in Vietnam: Combat trauma and the undoing of character. New York: Scribner.