Stress from Caring for Someone with PTSD

Recognizing and Coping with Caregiver Burden

Woman supporting her friend
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The impact of PTSD can reach far beyond the individual with PTSD, affecting the lives of the friends and family caring for someone with PTSD.

Stress Associated with Support

Receiving support from others is very important during times of stress. Seeking support from another person is a healthy and effective way of dealing with a stressful event. During times of stress, loved ones may often be the people that someone seeks out for support.

It is important to realize that providing support requires energy and can be stressful. It can be upsetting and stressful for a partner or spouse to see someone they care about struggling with a problem. Most times, a partner or spouse will be able to provide support without feeling too taxed themselves. However, when the stress is constant and support is frequently needed, "caregiver burden" may occur.

What Is Caregiver Burden?

PTSD can be viewed as a chronic illness, and the person with PTSD may require constant care from a loved one, such as a wife or husband.

Partners of people with PTSD may be faced with a number of stressors that go along with caring for and living with someone with a chronic disease. These stressors include financial strain, managing the person's symptoms, dealing with crises, the loss of friends or the loss of intimacy.

Due to a loved one's illness, partners may be the only people who can take care of such stressors.

This puts a large burden on them, and as a result they may experience tremendous strain and stress, or caregiver burden.

Studies on Caregiver Burden in PTSD

Several studies have looked at caregiver burden among partners caring for loved ones with PTSD. A brief discussion of two of these studies is provided below.

Researchers looked at 58 spouses of veterans with PTSD. They found that the severity of the veterans' PTSD symptoms was connected to the amount of caregiver burden and distress experienced by the spouse. In other words, as a spouse's PTSD symptoms got worse, so did the caregiver's amount of burden and distress.

Other researchers did a similar study with spouses of veterans with PTSD. They found that as PTSD symptoms worsened so did the amount of caregiver burden experienced by the spouse. They also found that violent behavior in the relationship (such as pushing someone, throwing things, physical abuse) was linked with caregiver burden.

How Can Caregiver Burden Be Prevented?

It is important that caregivers have basic information about PTSD. Simply knowing the symptoms of PTSD and where they come from can help caregivers gain a better understanding of their loved one's diagnosis and behavior.

Mental health professionals recognize the stress that comes with caring for a loved one with PTSD. Caregivers may also benefit from attending individual therapy or support groups to find support for themselves, and to learn how to cope better with their loved one's PTSD.

Couples counseling may also be useful.

One Final Note

Caregivers may feel guilty if they take time for themselves; however, it is important for caregivers to realize that they too need time to "recharge their batteries." Living with and caring for someone with PTSD is stressful. The more a caregiver can learn how to care for themselves, the better they will be able to care for others.

Sources

Beckham, J.C., Lytel, B.L., & Feldman, M.E. (1996). Caregiver burden in partners of Vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 64, 1068-1071.

Biegel, D.E., Sales, E., & Schulz, R. (1991). Family caregiving in chronic illness. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Calhoun, P.S.,Beckham, J.C., & Bosworth, H.B. (2002). Caregiver burden and psychological distress in partners of veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 15, 205-212.

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