Mac McClelland reports that families of PTSD patients are starting to show the same symptoms:
Symptoms start at depression and alienation, including the “compassion fatigue” suffered by social workers and trauma counselors. But some spouses and loved ones suffer symptoms that are, as one medical journal puts it, “almost identical to PTSD except that indirect exposure to the traumatic event through close contact with the primary victim of trauma” is the catalyst. Basically your spouse’s behavior becomes the “T” in your own PTSD.
Secondary traumatic stress has been documented in the spouses of veterans with PTSD from Vietnam. And the spouses of Israeli veterans with PTSD, and Dutch veterans with PTSD. In one study, the incidence of secondary trauma in wives of Croatian war vets with PTSD was 30 percent. In another study there, it was 39 percent.
“Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual,” says Robert Motta, a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Hofstra University who wrote a few of the many medical-journal articles about secondary trauma in Vietnam vets’ families. “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person” in some form or another, to varying degrees and for different lengths of time. “Everyone” includes children.