In 2010, PTSD day was established on June 27th, with June becoming PTSD awareness month in 2014. Many of our blogs and resources explore PTSD in relation to the primary victim, however, it is also important to remember that those effects ripple out into the PTSD sufferer’s network of friends, family and professional support.
These people and groups are vulnerable to being affected by disorders like Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) and Secondhand Trauma. This phenomenon can have a devastating effect and make it even more difficult for the primary victim to recover, achieve peace of mind and a healthy lifestyle.
What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?
“Compassion fatigue, or secondary traumatic stress disorder, is a natural but disruptive by-product of working with traumatized clients. It is a set of observable reactions to working with people who have been traumatized and mirrors the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” (Osofsky, Putnam & Lederman, 2008; Figley, 1995).
Over time, mental health professionals that work with PTSD sufferers are vulnerable to experiencing many of the same symptoms and sliding down a dangerous path. Some symptoms include:
- Feeling Isolated
- Physical Ailment Manifestations
- Poor Sleep
Being regularly exposed to disturbing events and emotions can begin to wear down and affect caregivers and mental health support professionals. While some professionals are able to find healthy means to cope, others can become consciously and subconsciously affected. Just like the primary PTSD sufferer must come to terms and address their own issues, support professionals must be aware, willing and able to do the same.
Mental health professionals can be proactive in mitigating secondary traumatic stress by creating an internal support structure within their facility or clinic or through outside counseling and therapy. Maintaining one’s own mental and emotional health is crucial to a professional’s ability to help their clients and patients.
Effect on Families
Secondhand trauma and STS have been shown to have a profound effect on the families and relationships of primary PTSD sufferers. These effects can range from obvious and direct issues like frequent nightmares and violence to more subtle symptoms like social detachment or numbed emotions. Over time, these issues can wear down even the most supportive family and relationships, causing even more tension and negativity, that leads to a downward spiral. Children can also be affected by STS, which can create a complex dynamic within the family support structure. Many children will have difficulty understanding what is happening and why, creating more confusion and fear, which will further feed the underlying issues.
Family and friend support groups must be aware of this phenomenon and work to mitigate or heal from STS, in order to help the primary PTSD sufferer and forge healthy relationships. If you are suffering from PTSD or STS, it is often essential to seek out professional assistance that will give you the tools to cope and begin the healing process.
The Path to Healing
Remember that the journey towards health and stability can be a long and arduous road that will have its share of pitfalls, roadblocks and victories. Follow your path on a day by day basis and seek professional help where possible. With a strong support base and the right tools, you can win this battle.
For more information, please check out some of our resources or get in contact with our team of experts today!