• PTSD Hurts Families Too


    Nearly twenty years ago, Ontario police officer Marc Fleming was beaten nearly to death on the job. His struggle with PTSD since that day has not only devastated his life but taken a toll on his family.

    recent article in thestar.com relates Fleming’s story. After receiving a call about a home break-in, Fleming pulled over a speeding vehicle. The driver of the car attacked him and severely beat him. Fleming’s dentures were shattered, lodging in his throat, and when he attempted to radio for help, the dispatch worker was unable to understand him.

    After a prolonged struggle for his life, he shot his attacker. Both he and the man who had brutally assaulted him were transported in the same ambulance, treated in the same ER, and treated on the same ICU floor.

    “That’s the day my husband died,” Fleming’s wife Debora says.

    He left the hospital four days later, but he was never the same. He cried all the time, was suicidal and depressed. He had nightmares and woke up screaming. He developed a fear of guns, sirens, and police officers. He became easily agitated, angry, and violent, often striking out at his family members. He zoned out and isolated himself, often sitting for days in a catatonic state, staring.

    Four months after his release from the hospital, Fleming was diagnosed with PTSD.

    Experts say PTSD takes a toll on families. “We see higher rates of divorce, family strain and social isolation,” reports Dr. Ash Bender, medical director of the psychological trauma program at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “You lose your ability to feel pleasure and love.”

    Spouses and partners carry the heaviest weight of support. Children feel the effects as well. Often the entire atmosphere of the home shifts. Family members often feel they must avoid and diminish “triggers” for their loved one.

    So what can family members do?

    • Remember that a loved one’s behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect their true feelings.
    • Learn as much as you can about PTSD and effective treatments, and symptoms.
    • Learn about your loved one’s triggers and the best way to respond to them. Consult with your family member’s mental health professional, and ask for suggestions.
    • Tell your family member you’re willing to listen and learn.
    • Consider family and individual counseling and support groups that can help you learn how to communicate and interact more effectively.
    • If your family member struggles with violent behavior, consider the following guidelines: 1) agree that either one of you can call a time-out if needed, 2) agree that when a time-out is called, discussion must immediately stop, 3) decide on a signal for the time-out (gesture or word), 4) tell each other where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing, and when you’ll return from the time-out.

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