It is incredibly important to discuss how family members can prepare themselves for the physical and emotional changes they may have to make when their spouse, partner, parent or child returns home from combat. Many service members experience intense stress reactions as they readjust to a very different life at home. These stressors can result in symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.
What should you watch for? There are common physical and mental/emotional reactions that your service member may experience in the first few months of being home such as; trouble sleeping, upset stomach, headaches, flashbacks / frequent unwanted memories, anger, guilt and becoming easily upset or agitated. Some common behaviors to look out for could also be, trouble concentrating, being on guard and lack of self-care. Again, these behaviors and reactions should subside after a few months as reintegration takes place, but if problems last longer, or if your service member is coping with stress by drinking, doing drugs, withdrawing or having sudden emotional outbursts, it’s probably time to seek outside help. Ongoing symptoms like these could be the beginning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your service member could also be experiencing other common mental health issues such as: depression, suicidal thoughts, violence and substance abuse. If you are seeing any of these behaviors in your loved one, take the first step by educating yourself.
The service member isn’t the only one making adjustments. It’s important that family members also consider their own adjustments as everyone involved will have changed, both physically and emotionally. Here’s how families can prepare.
If the returning service member is your spouse or significant other, you’ll probably experience a “honeymoon phase” for a time after demobilization. Then reality will have to kick in. If you have children, they’ve grown and changed and developed new habits and behaviors. And whether you have children or are child-free, you and your spouse or partner will have to figure out how to balance responsibilities and expectations again. If your service member has been through traumatic experiences, these experiences will affect your everyday lives for some time.
Children may take some time to warm up to this person who has suddenly re-entered their lives. They will react differently depending on age and temperament, but in general:
- Infants (younger than 12 months) may react to changes in their schedule, physical environment, or caretaker by showing apathy or refusing to eat
- Toddlers may be clingy, throw temper tantrums, or not sleep well
- Preschoolers may backslide with potty training or thumb sucking, or experience sleep problems, clinginess, and separation anxiety.
- School age children may be irritable, aggressive, or whiny, or complain of stomachaches or headaches.
- Adolescents may rebel against new family roles and responsibilities after the deployed parent returns home.
Prepare children to be with your returning service member by giving them extra attention, care, and physical closeness when possible, encouraging them to talk about their feelings and maintaining routines as best as you can.
If your returning service member’s parents live nearby, they will have to make many of the same readjustments as spouses or partners. They will also have to recognize that everybody has grown and changed, and adjust their boundaries as they get reacquainted with their loved one. If they, or the service member’s siblings, have been helping you and your family while your partner was away, those roles will have to be renegotiated also.
One of the best things you can do to prepare yourself and your family for a service member’s return is talk to someone who has experienced it and/or get help through counseling. Family and couple sessions are often an integral part of the therapy process. Many family members seek additional help for themselves or their loved ones who are already in treatment. It’s vital to find a valuable and
private outlet for veterans to manage their stress and maintain their ability and passion for the lifesaving work they do. Learning and practicing healthy self-care through a coaching style therapy helps to stimulate productivity, a renewed interest in personal growth, and reconnection with family, friends and loved ones.
The VA, the military and other veteran organizations can provide you with helpful information. You can also reach out to Community Mental Health Organizations such as Horizon Health Services and Horizon Village in Western New York, Samaritan Village in New York City and Ulster County, J-CAP in Queens, New York and/or St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation in Saranac Lake. Two other tremendous resources are NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (NYS OASAS) and Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State (ASAPNYS).
On May 15, 2015, the Veteran Services Committee of ASAPNYS is presenting a one-day Veteran Summit (see display ad across from this article). If you wish to learn more about issues impacting our Veterans and their loved ones and the resources available to help them, contact Janet Braga at ASAPNYS to inquire about this event and/or register. Phone Janet at 518 426-3122 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paige Prentice, MM, CASAC is Vice President of Operations, Horizon Health Services, Horizon Village, Inc., in Buffalo New York. She is the Co-Chair of ASANYS’s Veteran Committee, Committee member of their Women, Children and Family Services, and a member of the ASAPNYS Board.