The complex nature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been highlighted in a new study exploring how it impacts children of military and emergency first responders.
Conducted by MESHA Associate Director and PhD Researcher Karen May through University of Adelaide, the study was the first in the world to examine the experiences of children aged nine to 17 living with a military or first responder parent with PTSD.
Published last month in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, Ms May’s research found evidence that children of service parents with PTSD have unique impacts compared to children of civilian parents with PTSD.
Ms May said the findings are some of the first to explicitly show how intergenerational trauma is passed on in service families and the different ways it can affect the children.
As part of the research, 17 interviews took place with five service parents, five co-parents and seven children.
Four themes were found in the data: extreme and unpredictable emotions, changes in home and family relations, impacts on child wellbeing and PTSD awareness and help-seeking.
The article highlighted how service culture can impact children’s experiences of parental PTSD, often displaying as emotional and behavioural issues at a young age.
Children were often stoic, which could be empowering but also led them to take on adult responsibilities, which was more intense in single-parent families.
Family members reported experiencing gaps in accessing appropriate support services, with the children expressing a desire to learn more about PTSD, such as its causes and its ongoing affects for their parent and family.
It was also reported that that the service parents with PTSD were frustrated and worried by the difficulty of finding help for their partners and children.
Ms May said this underlined the need for more specific support options for service families.
Funding was provided to Ms May through MESHA’s AVM Brent Espeland Memorial Scholarship.
It continues Ms May’s research into the effects of PTSD on military and first responder families, having previously had a systematic review published in 2022.
That review also found gaps in models of care for first responder families experiencing PTSD.
The final study of Ms May’s PhD, which is an international first, is a wellbeing program for children and parents, will also be published soon.