PTSD Treatment: ESAs Helping Families of Veterans

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emotional support animal licking face of veteran with post traumatic stress disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness common to people who have suffered from a traumatic event. Today, medical professionals see PTSD more and more in soldiers, as well as their family members. PTSD can manifest in many ways, and it can ultimately lead to other psychiatric disorders. To learn more about how an emotional support animal (ESA) can help families of veterans for PTSD treatment, read on!

Research and information were provided by Prairie Conlon, CertaPet’s Clinical Manager, from her forthcoming book on emotional support animal assisted therapy.

The Happy Homecoming That Doesn’t Last Long     

The horrors of war are known only to our brave soldiers who have served and dedicated their lives for their country. Amongst the celebrations of coming home for good and leaving the horrors behind, many veterans still suffer the after-effects of their profession.

PTSD, also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a debilitating mental disorder, whereby those affected react psychologically to a stressful or traumatic event.

Approximately 30 percent of men and 27 percent of women soldiers had PTSD at some point in their life following the Vietnam war, proving to have long-lasting and devastating effects.

However, there are many channels of support available for people suffering from PTSD. Some of these include licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs), support groups and medications.

In recent years, emotional support animals (ESAs) have gained traction as another way to help cope with many mental disorders, PTSD included.

PTSD: How It Affects Vets

Veterans are one of the groups of people that are prone to getting combat-related PTSD, after they experience traumatic experiences. Especially when exposed to violence, death, and tragedy in the field.

It is almost described as a feeling of having a flight-or-flight response getting triggered out of the blue. They often are unable to readjust and cope well to normal life and day-to-day functioning.

Many who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder commonly suffer from nightmares. They also get flashbacks of traumatic incidents, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and depression.

This can affect their quality of life. It often prevents them from re-assimilating into society. They also have difficulties with social interaction and relationships. These symptoms may stay with those affected for months or even years.

What Are the PTSD Symptoms?

Trauma and PTSD go hand in hand. While PTSD may be expressed differently from person to person, there are four main groups of symptoms that PTSD sufferers can display:

  • Intrusive thoughts: This happens with flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares, panic attacks when exposed to a triggering reminder of the trauma and recurring memories of the incident.
  • Avoidance behavior: Avoiding talking or thinking about the traumatic event. Even avoiding people, places or anything that triggers memories of the event.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: Memory loss, feeling deeply negative thoughts about oneself, constant fear, guilt and feelings of helplessness, detachment, and difficulty maintaining relationships and difficulty in feeling positive emotions.
  • Arousal symptoms: Always feeling on guard, jittery and easily triggered. The symptoms also include having trouble sleeping, concentrating and frequently breaking out in aggressive behavior.

girl sitting on couch with esa worrying about post-traumatic stress disorder

Why Dogs are the Best Idea for People for PTSD Treatment

There are many treatment options for PTSD patients. From exposure therapy, talk therapy, experiential therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy, PTSD patients need to find a therapy that works for them. A good place to start for vets who need PTSD treatment is the nearest PTSD treatment center.

As mentioned, emotional support animals are known for helping people with many mental conditions. They have massive benefits on the mental health of people in need of PTSD treatment.

They provide emotional support by comforting, calming and accompanying the affected person. This is helpful for veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD.

These are the ways that dogs, in particular, can make great ESAs:

  • Dogs are social buffers: Dogs help one feel safer and calmer in the presence of other people. Not to mention, dogs are also a great way to bond with other people and gain confidence in meeting new people since they need to go outdoors for walks and social interaction.
  • Dogs help reassure vets with PTSD by being vigilant: Dogs, by nature, are protective of the people they are bonded to. A soldier needs to be vigilant at all times. During deployment, soldiers know that their fellow comrades are looking out for them. A vet will feel better knowing that the dog is part of a buddy system and that they are always alert.
  • Re-learning social skills: Dogs are quite forgiving! Dogs do not judge, thus persons with PTSD can be comfortable and safe around their pooches while learning how to readjust to a normal social life.
  • Dogs help keep the nightmares at bay: Dogs are affectionate and loving companions! Not only can they show their owner love and care, but they can also help relieve stress. A dog can sense when a soldier’s stress levels rise. A dog will keep nightmares at bay through their calming presence, as well as waking or alerting a vet who is having the nightmare.

What is Secondary PTSD?    

Since those closest to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are the most affected by the vet’s condition, many end up developing similar symptoms. This is known as Secondary PTSD, caregiver burden, or compassion fatigue.

37% of spouses of veterans with PTSD suffer from secondary PTSD. Those closest to post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers tend to get influenced by their behaviors and thus, develop almost the same symptoms as PTSD sufferers without the direct trauma. PTSD treatment is not limited to individualized treatment. The recovery plan needs include all family members.

The Soldier Does Not Suffer Alone: Children and Spouses are Affected Too!

Often, veterans suffering from PTSD can have a direct effect on those closest to them. Their mental issues and symptoms often cause strain between family members and spouses.

Many who suffer from PTSD engage in self-destructive behavior. They indulge in substance abuse and other vices. They also may show bursts of aggressive or angry behaviors. The trauma or traumatic events that occurred during their deployment can well have affected their character.

Such behaviors are destructive and unhealthy in family relationships, especially if children are involved. In many veterans with PTSD, their problems lead to complications in playing their roles as a spouse.

Studies show that in veteran families, violence, and physical and verbal aggression to their spouses is more prevalent than in normal families.

The vet, the children, and the spouse: everyone suffers because tone family member has PTSD.

Meet the Middletons: CertaPet Joins Forces with Military Makeover! 

CertaPet understands the importance of an emotional support animal can have on a person’s mental well-being. An ESA is a very helpful addition to any PTSD treatment plan.

CertaPet has joined forces with Military Makeover to help the deserving Middleton family who has been through the wars in more ways than one.

4 Ways in Which an Emotional Support Animal Can Help the Whole Family 

An emotional support animal provides more than just comfort to a person. ESAs are there to provide support, comfort, and companionship to all members of the family.

What people don’t realize is that, when a person is deployed, their entire family will have some sort of distress. Children who have a parent serving in the army may struggle to cope with their mother or father not being around a lot.

Wives or husbands who’ve had their spouse or partner deployed may undergo depression and anxiety from the fear of not seeing their loved ones again. Many people that have a family member in the army or navy may suffer from anxiety attacks or loneliness. It is this very fear and concern about the inevitable that causes us mental and emotional distress.

A Dog is a Constant for Military Families on the Move    

Military families often need to adjust to severe lifestyle changes. This constant moving can cause feelings of insecurities in all family members. The families of Soldiers and veterans move from one place to another. The constant moving and readjusting can affect family members significantly.

Children will need to readjust to new schools and find new friends. They may experience the entire ordeal as quite stressful. Fortunately, an emotional support dog can have an incredibly positive impact in such a situation.

ESAs can act as a friend or support animal for children who may not have as many friends. A dog can provide the companionship, loyalty, and trust a child needs to grow and develop.

Best of all, an emotional support dog will always be there with the family! They really give family members a sense of belonging and fulfillment.

emotional support cat comforting little girl with secondary ptsd symptoms

Action and Distraction: Getting Out and About is Good for Everyone!  

Depression can manifest in many ways! Some of the most common signs of depression in people include anti-social behavior and exclusion from daily activities. People suffering from depression may no longer do the things they once enjoyed, and they often remain confined to their homes.

When a person suffering from depression is given an emotional support dog; their whole world changes! Emotional support animals give people the drive they need to get outdoors and enjoy the things life has to offer.

With an ESA, a person is instinctively driven to get outdoors. They hike with their dog or take their dog to dog parks. This engagement in an outdoor activity is not only beneficial for one’s mental health, but it will also benefit your physical health.

The Calming and Comforting Presence of an ESA on a Lonely Spouse

ESAs are not just for soldiers! A spouse who has a partner in the military or children of the soldier benefit just as much from the presence of an ESA.

They may suffer from loneliness, and this can often lead to depression. It is common for them to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. The spouses of soldiers worry. A lot. All the time. An ESA is a source of comfort and distraction is cases such as these.

Sleeping Soundly: Dogs Are Alert and Have Your Back 

Anxiety and depression can manifest in ways that affect our sleep cycle as well. It makes sense for traumatic memories to convert into nightmares. Family members who have someone they care about in the military may suffer from insomnia or poor sleep. They may simply not be able to sleep easily, or they may not be able to sleep for long periods.

An emotional support dog can comfort people suffering from sleep disorders. Multiple studies have proven that the mere presence and feeling of a dog by your side can lower heart rate and blood pressure. By allowing a support dog to sleep on your bed, you’ll find that you will be able to sleep a lot better.

It is also perfect for those who have a post-traumatic stress disorder. This is because dogs are a lot more sensitive to sounds and movement—even as they sleep! People with PTSD may have recurring nightmares which will disrupt their sleep. Fortunately, as dogs are incredibly intuned and alert, they will be able to pick up changes in your behavior.

Dogs also give a sense of safety in that they will alert someone if something is amiss. They always have your back!

emotional support animal comforting lonely woman with emotional trauma

Vets, Pets, and Kids: A Very Good Combination  

Many parents may think that adding an animal to the household can increase their stress levels. Yes, it is true that sometimes bringing a pet into your home can cause additional stress.

Nevertheless, bringing a pet home to your child will help them grow as an individual immensely. A pet or more specifically, an ESA dog, can benefit your child in many ways—particularly—if your child suffers from loneliness.

All the Great Things Pet Ownership Teaches Kids 

Apart from being a great PTSD treatment option, ESAs have some very important lesson to teach to children. Pet ownership teaches children about the importance (and existence) of empathy, loyalty, and compassion. Pet’s teach children about responsibilities, as well as forgiveness. Dogs are forgiving beings.

man hugging dog as part of ptsd treatment

Secondary Traumatization aka Secondary Trauma is Real, and Nobody Should Suffer in Silence! 

Unfortunately, we often talk about PTSD and mental illness in veterans. However, Secondary Traumatization is very common among people who have a family member serving in the army.

People who suffer from this form of mental illness can experience depression, panic attacks, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Their whole world turns upside down when the soldier returns.

Whether you decide to go to with a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or look for treatment of PTSD through other kinds of behavioral therapy, an ESA truly can help your recovery.

If you or someone you know suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Secondary Traumatization then break the silence and connect with a licensed mental health professional. Make sure you or the person affected seek PTSD treatment. Everyone deserves to live a life free of post-traumatic stress.

Common Questions on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Do dogs help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder?

What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans?

Who can tell me about PTSD treatment options?

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