Understanding Caregiver PTSD

depressed adult woman on sofa at home
If you provide care for a loved one, you may be at risk for caregiver PTSD.

If you think PTSD only happens to those individuals who have experienced life-threatening danger, think again. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can occur after any traumatic event or experience. It might surprise you to learn that providing care for a family member is one of the main causes of PTSD. Yet, the condition often goes undetected, and thus untreated. This happens because the individual receiving care is usually the primary focus of both healthcare providers and the family at large.

As a family caregiver, it’s essential to know the red flags of caregiver PTSD – which are noticeably different from other forms of PTSD – and to seek help if you’re experiencing them. These include:

  • Apathy: You may feel empty, numb, and emotionally detached from loved ones. This can occur in conjunction with compassion fatigue.
  • Anxiety: Heightened anxiety regarding your family member’s health and wellness can be especially noticeable at night, and can lead to night terrors.
  • Pain: Both physical and emotional pain can be unrelenting and overwhelming. This can include headaches and stomach upset in addition to feelings of hopelessness and anguish.
  • Flashbacks: Reliving a distressing experience can lead to the same level of emotion as when the event occurred.

Why Are Caregivers at an Increased Risk for PTSD?

There are many factors that can come into play to produce the perfect storm for caregiver PTSD, including:

  • The overwhelming responsibilities involved with caregiving: from day-to-day care tasks to managing life-changing medical and financial decisions on a loved one’s behalf
  • Challenging family dynamics and complex emotions like remorse, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness
  • Hospitalizations along with other emergency situations that arise
  • Grief over a variety of losses: watching a loved one’s health decline, experiencing a relationship shift from simply being a family member to being in a caregiver role, not being able to live life as it was in the past, and more

What Should You Do if you Believe You Have Caregiver PTSD?

The first step is to consult with your primary care physician to describe the symptoms you are experiencing. You will want to rule out any other health conditions, especially if you are experiencing any physical pain.

It is also important to locate a therapist who is specially trained in treating individuals diagnosed with PTSD. There are excellent treatment options, including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapy, as well as individual, family, or group counseling.

Taking regular breaks from your caregiving role is also very important. Let friends and family members know that you’re struggling and that you could use more support. Caregiving should never be a one-person responsibility. Permitting others to step up and help benefits the person you’re caring for as well, providing them with additional opportunities for social connections.

How Does Home Care Help?

Serenity Home Care’s in-home respite care services allow you to take the time away you need for self-care while knowing a loved one is receiving excellent care. Taking care of yourself is paramount to providing the best care for your family member. Contact us online or call us at 250.590.8098 to find out more information about our home care in Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, and the surrounding areas.