"What should I do?"
"Should I push him, or leave him alone?"
"How can I get her to talk to me?"
"How do I explain this to our kids?"
As a psychologist treating service members and veterans with PTSD, depression and other psychological issues, these are the types of questions I hear the most from spouses, partners and family members.
What should we do to help our family member with PTSD?
Family members understand that deployments can have major effects, and they know that things may have happened while their loved one was deployed, but that doesn't tell them what they should do as a relative to help their loved one or themselves and their family.
I have been researching how PTSD and other reactions to deployments affect military families for 10 years now. When I took my first position as assistant professor of psychology, it was 2005.
We need focused research.
Given what was going on in the world and with our country's service members, I felt enormous appreciation for the sacrifices they and their families were making, and I wanted to find a way to give back. That's when I decided to focus my research on how families are impacted by PTSD and related challenges.
Spending time learning about military families, the wide range of challenges they face, and the many ways in which they are resilient in the face of such challenges has been the most rewarding work I have ever done. Media attention and public awareness of these issues may be dying down, but I am committed to continuing this work for decades to come.
Non-military researchers may be missing important issues.
As I pondered my next research study, I wanted to address two huge problems I see in the research we have done so far. First, there are only a handful of psychologists across the country studying military families -- and almost none of us have ever served in the armed forces!
A research study can only learn about what the researchers think to ask about, so we may be missing things that are incredibly important.
So I designed a study to conduct open-ended interviews with family members of service members who suffer from symptoms of PTSD or depression (even if they are not fully diagnosed with these conditions).
This study is designed to learn first-hand from these family members what the major needs, challenges, resources, and successful strategies are in handling the difficulties that accompany living with a loved one who struggles with these issues.
Research focused solely on male service members is not complete.
The second problem that hampers research is that almost all of the studies that have been done so far focus on male service members and their wives and children. This completely leaves out female service members and unmarried service members, as well as gay/lesbian couples.
Consequently, the other thing this study is designed to do is interview not only female partners/spouses, but also male partners/spouses, AND non-romantic adult relatives (e.g., parents).
The information we get from this study will be used to refine existing treatments or design new treatments that can help both the service members AND the family, as they navigate the challenges of post-deployment PTSD and depression.
Interviewees to receive $50 gift card.
So what can you do? If you are a service member struggling with PTSD or depression after a deployment, or a relative of such a service member, we would be honored to have your family participate in this study. Or if you know of such a family, please share this information with them.
The study involves the service member and the relative separately filling out some basic questionnaires online, after which eligible families will be contacted to set up a phone interview. To express our thanks for your time, family members who complete the interview will receive a $50 gift card. If you might be interested, please visit http://tinyurl.com/militaryfamilies-gmu, where you can learn more information and decide whether to complete the questionnaires.
Finally, regardless of whether you are eligible for or choose to participate in the study, I humbly and respectfully thank you for your service. I hope my work serves in some way to honor your service and sacrifices.
-- Keith Renshaw is an associate professor of psychology at George Mason University. He specializes in anxiety, stress/trauma, and interpersonal relationships, with a particular focus on romantic relationships in which one individual has experienced a trauma.