Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Families

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Families

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves numerous symptoms for sufferers, but the family members around that individual must endure those symptoms as well. Individuals living within the home of a returning military member may struggle with the symptoms associated with the military member’s illness. The individual with the illness often exhibits symptomatic withdrawal from his family (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), which can have long lasting effects on the relationships within the family unit. The impulsiveness and over-excitability associated with PTSD could also play a role in the family dynamics (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The purpose of this literature review is to address the following research question: What effects do the symptoms of PTSD cause for children and spouses of individuals diagnosed with the disorder? The hypothesis to be investigated follows: An effect exists on families from PTSD in military members.

Numerous researchers have studied the family units of individuals with PTSD. In one study, Allen, Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2010) attempted to measure the stress incurred on a marital relationship in relation to recent deployments and diagnosis of PTSD. The levels of numerous aspects of the marital relationship were examined with couples in which the male partner had a positive diagnosis of PTSD. While this study showed the sample population attributed certain marital discords to PTSD, the sample may not represent the military population at large. Indeed, the authors of this study divulged a flaw in the sampling process as the inability to fully represent all military couples. The couples chosen in this sample offered to participate in a marital research project, rather than having a sample randomly selected.

Another important study of relationships involving PTSD was conducted by Gewirtz, Polusny, DeGarmo, Khaylis, and Erbes (2010). In this study, the main focus was on the symptoms of PTSD directly affecting two aspects of marriage: parenting and relationship adjustment (Gerwirtz et. al., 2010). These authors affirmed that a positive correlation exists between marital discord and PTSD symptoms in returning military members. The results, however, may not be fully accurate across the greater population as the sample was selected from a single brigade negating the ability to sample randomly sample.

Another factor in relationships with a member with a positive diagnosis of PTSD is intimate partner violence. Finley, Baker, Pugh, and Peterson (2010) provided case studies to support their thesis of a positive correlation between PTSD and intimate partner violence. In this study, researchers annotated numerous instances of aggressive behaviors between partners during dissociative and parasomniac episodes. This study incorporated 19 case studies to draw conclusions about violence against partners. Although this limited sampling narrows the ability to generalize these results, the findings show a need to further investigate this area of study.

These factors could have distressing effects on the psychological well-being of the partners. Renshaw, Rhoades, Allen, Blais, Markman, and Stanley (2010) researched the secondary traumatic stress disorder and general psychological distress occurring in spouses of individuals diagnosed with PTSD. The findings determined that genuine distress occurred with spouses, but often the spouses were misdiagnosed with secondary traumatic stress disorder. According to the researchers, secondary traumatic stress disorder entails a predetermined set of symptoms, and many of the individuals studied did not meet the criteria for diagnosis. The researchers stated that findings are limited due to the self-report nature of the study which may have caused bias in the results.

Focusing solely on current conflicts would have limited the scope of research; including...
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