Caregivers suffering from PTSD is a real and serious problem. The most common manifestations of caregiver stress are compassion fatigue and burnout spawned by chronic feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety and guilt.
However, if a caregiver is exposed to a jarring traumatic experience, such as witnessing a loved one die suddenly of a heart attack or seeing them struggle with an excruciating ailment, they may develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Seeing an elderly loved one fall down the stairs or caring for someone who is prone to angry, violent outbursts can also result in a heightened “fight or flight” reaction to trauma, and further trauma may eventually lead to full-blown PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
Although PTSD is typically associated with combat veterans, victims of abuse or violence, survivors of disasters, or first responders, it can also affect caregivers.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience.
Types of events that can lead to PTSD include:
- serious accidents
- physical or sexual assault
- abuse, including childhood or domestic abuse
- exposure to traumatic events at work, including remote exposure
- serious health problems, such as being admitted to intensive care
- childbirth experiences, such as losing a baby
- war and conflict
PTSD develops in about 1 in 3 people who experience severe trauma.
The symptoms of this anxiety disorder are manifold and some people may experience a few or all of them.
- Increased Anxiety: If you’ve ever had a night terror then you’ll understand what this is like. Post-trauma stress can manifest in your psyche and put you on high alert – all night.
- Relive the Experience: For caregivers, this might mean you flashback to your loved one berating you during a time when they were sundowning. It may be feeling like you’ve lost them all over again. It could happen hand-in-hand with increased anxiety, where you’re suddenly on high alert and worried your loved one is wandering around the house.
- Physical Pain & Mental Anguish: Many caregivers suffering from PTSD report aches and pains that won’t go away. Additionally, many experience headaches and thoughts of hopelessness. They feel unable to move forward.
- Antisocial Behavior: Many caregivers detach from their families and friends, feeling numb, empty, and guilt-ridden. They may think about death and contemplate suicide.
The scary part about PTSD is that it can lead to suicide and that’s why it’s all the more important to be wary of what’s happening to you or your loved one. Everyone handles death differently, but if someone appears to be suffering some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, then it’s time to get professional help.
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. This includes war veterans, children, and people who have been through a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, or other serious events—including caregivers. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals but generally fall into the categories described below.
Re-experiencing: Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event in the form of:
- repetitive and distressing images or sensations
- physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling
Some people have constant negative thoughts about their experience, repeatedly asking themselves questions that prevent them from coming to terms with the event.
For example, they may wonder why the event happened to them and if they could have done anything to stop it, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.
Avoidance and Emotional Numbing: Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD. This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.
Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their minds, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.
Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing.
This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy.
Hyperarousal (feeling ‘on edge’): Someone with PTSD may be very anxious and find it difficult to relax. They may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This state of mind is known as hyperarousal.
Hyperarousal often leads to:
- angry outbursts
- sleeping problems (insomnia)
- difficulty concentrating
Other problems: Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including:
- other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or phobias
- self-harming or destructive behavior, such as drug misuse or alcohol misuse
- other physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains, and stomach aches
PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.
Yes, for many people. It’s not simply physically exhausting, but emotionally, mentally, and financially draining as well. This is especially true for adult children who take care of parents with dementia or severe disability. Many of them feel an extreme amount of pressure and guilt to provide care but feel powerless to stop the debilitating condition of their parents.
Before having treatment for PTSD, a detailed assessment of your symptoms will be carried out to ensure treatment is tailored to your individual needs.
Your GP will often carry out an initial assessment, but you’ll be referred to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment if you have had symptoms of PTSD for more than 4 weeks or your symptoms are severe.
If you have PTSD that requires treatment, psychological therapies are usually recommended first. A combination of psychological therapy and medication may be recommended if you have severe or persistent PTSD. Your GP can refer you to a clinic that specializes in treating PTSD if there’s one in your area. Or you can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapy service.
Depending on the caregiver’s situation, that might mean private, group or family therapy sessions. Some other helpful remedies include meditation, physical therapy (massages), and EMDR (or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Some doctors may also recommend alternative treatments like acupuncturists, chiropractors, and Reiki masters.
Ultimately though, the best way to treat PTSD is to recognize the symptoms and exercise self-awareness. You may not be okay and it’s more than okay to reach out. Remember that “self-care” should always come first.