Saturday, 12 March 2011

Deployment to a Combat Zone and its Affect on Our Families

The effects of deployment on families:

Families often deal with stresses such as frequent moves or the absence of a parent. Deployment to war creates additional issues for a family to handle, especially regarding post traumatic stress disorder veterans.
Families face a number of challenges before, during, and after deployment. This emotional cycle of deployment begins when news of deployment is released to the family. It starts with a short period of strong emotions, such as fear and anger. As departure grows closer, a period of detachment and withdrawal may occur. This can happen to prepare for the person being physically gone.

During the deployment family members have a range of feelings and experiences, including:
  • Concern, worry or panic
  • Loneliness, sadness
  • Added family duties and responsibilities
  • Learning new skills, making new friends
  • Fear for their service member's safety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Financial difficulties
  • Dealing with problems on their own
  • Understanding what your loved ones have been through
  • Concern over being needed and loved

A childs reactions to a parent's deployment will vary with each child. Any persons reactions depend on their age, maturity and any other behavioral or mental health problems a person might have. The mental health of the at-home parent often affects their child's distress level. This is especially true for young children. If parents successfully handle the stress of deployment, their children are less likely to have mental health or behavior problems.
What happens after the deployed person returns?

Experiences during deployment have helped make families and the deployed person more responsible:
  • You have grown but you have also faced many challenges. Remember, readjustment following the return from every deployment takes time. Reunions can be happy and stressful. There is usually a "honeymoon" phase shortly after demobilization, but it will probably be temporary.
  • Children have grown.
  • A deployed person has been through traumatic experiences. You have had to face new situations in your deployed persons absence. You might also feel angry because you had to handle so much on your own while they were away.
  • Family members at home have changed, too. You may have developed new relationships.
  • You may be feeling pride in what you were able to accomplish while your service member was away. 
  • For some couples, issues of infidelity may have arisen. Partners may need to talk about each other's commitment to the relationship.
  • Family members are affected by the reactions to common stressful situations that occur after a deployed person spends time in a war zone. Understand that these reactions often have more to do with deployment to war than with the family, and remember that it takes time to readjust.
  • Certain symptoms seem to have the greatest impact on relationships. The most troublesome for newer Veterans following time in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be sleep problems, dissociative symptoms (problems with knowing who or where you are), and sexual problems.

Parents and other family members of deployed person must make the same readjustments as the deployed person.
They, too, must realize that everybody has grown and changed:
  •  Their relationship with the deployed person will also be different. While they take time to get reacquainted, they will need to be aware of boundaries. It's easy for family members who have cared for a deployed person in the past to fall into old patterns. They want to take care of their loved one again in ways the person no longer needs or wants.

Impact of PTSD and other mental health problems on families
Many deployed persons returning from deployment to the recent conflicts are reporting family adjustment issues:
  • Some deployed persons report shouting with, shoving, or pushing current (or former) partners.
  • Some deployed persons say that their partner or children are afraid of them.

When the common reactions to war don't get better over time, or get worse, it may indicate more serious problems. If reactions are impacting life at home, work or school it is time to seek assistance for post traumatic stress disorder.

The effects of war can extend far beyond the deployed person and /or their family. Children and families can struggle with changes resulting from an absent parent or spouse. Families can also face problems when the deployed person returns and everyone has to deal with post traumatic stress.
The mental health of the at-home parent plays a key role in how children cope with deployment. The mental health of the deployed person returning from war also affects the children and indeed the whole family. The needs of the entire family are important.

Warzone-Related Stress Reactions: What Families Need to Know (PDF). From the Iraq War Clinician Guide.

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