The partners of Veterans and Emergency Services First Responders (ESFR) need more emotional, social and organisational support when it comes to helping their partners according to a new study supported by The Road Home.
Flinders University researchers have made a series of recommendations, including that the vicarious impact of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) on the partners be more formally recognised within organisational policies and procedures of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and ESFR services.
There’s also a call for clearer communication about the potential risk of PTS associated with their partner’s role in military or emergency services at the beginning of their career or as early as possible.
- More formal recognition of the vicarious impact of PTS on partners of veterans and ESFRs is needed within organisational policies and procedures for these populations, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and ESFR services.
- Any family support services developed to support people with PTS and their partners should acknowledge the potential differences between the experiences and needs of veterans and ESFRs and tailor their responses accordingly, in consultation with each individual, rather than assume that one size fits all.
- Partners’ understanding of mental health conditions and their impacts (ie. partners’ health literacy) should not be assumed merely by providing them with generic information about what PTS is and how it manifests in a clinical or definitional sense. Education materials developed for families of veterans and ESFRs with PTS must also include more information about strategies for ‘living with’ the experience in everyday family life.
- Promoting PTS health literacy should commence early. Partners should also receive formal early communication about the potential risk associated with their partner’s role (e.g., military service, ESFR), and at various transition points in the partner’s career trajectory, given that they are likely aware of problems developing before others.
- Mechanisms for early intervention within primary care could be improved. GPs should be encouraged to ask about family life where they know that their patient is a veteran or ESFR, or a partner of a veteran or ESFR.
- Families must be included from the outset of an individual’s career, not only as an afterthought when problems arise in the performance of their professional role.
- More focus is needed on making explicit the value of family peer support groups in promoting wellbeing and resilience, and more work is needed to understand what they could and should look like. The Road Home’s Skills Training in Affective Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) program is one potential model.
- One-to-one mentor support may be one option for filling the need created by significant role changes arising from the presence of PTS.
- PTS treatment and care providers must create therapeutic spaces for people with PTS and their partners to raise issues about intimacy, or initiate discussions about intimacy more centrally in their dialogues with veterans and ESFRs with PTS and their family members. Leaving intimacy issues ‘unspoken’ separates the person from important sources of identity and support, and overlooks key components of the problems that can perpetuate their PTS, and which can be associated with marital conflict, grief and loss.
- Children of veterans and ESFRs should not be overlooked in the design and promotion of mental health literacy for families. Strategies for supporting children should be designed to reflect the different issues associated with the parent’s occupational background and should not be limited to clinical counselling.
- With the increasing number of young families experiencing financial distress as result of medical discharge from the ADF, there is an urgent need to raise this issue with government services, including the Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
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