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What to Expect When Your Service Member Returns Home

Grandma's-Sad-FarewellIn a previous blog post, we discussed how various family members can prepare themselves for the physical and emotional changes they may have to make when their spouse, partner, parent or child returns home from combat. But there may be more at stake. Many service members experience intense stress reactions as they readjust to life at home. What might you see, and what’s normal? Here’s what to watch for:

There are common physical and mental/emotional reactions that your service member may experience in the first few months:

  • Trouble sleeping, overly tired
  • Upset stomach, trouble eating
  • Headaches and sweating when remembering the war
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks or frequent unwanted memories
  • Feeling angry, nervous, helpless or fearful
  • Feeling guilt, self-blame or shame
  • Becoming easily upset, agitated, irritated or annoyed
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Experiencing numbness or an inability to feel happy

You may also notice some of these common behaviors:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Being easily startled
  • Being on guard, overly alert and concerned about safety and security
  • Too much drinking, smoking or drug use
  • Lack of exercise or self care, poor diet
  • Problems doing regular tasks at work or school
  • Aggressive driving habits

Again, these behaviors and reactions should abate after a few months as reintegration takes place. But if problems last for months, or if your service member is coping with stress by drinking, doing drugs, withdrawing or having sudden emotional outbursts, it’s probably time to seek outside help. What are some warning signs?

  • Family and social relationship troubles including frequent and intense conflicts, poor communication, inability to meet responsibilities
  • Work, school, or community issues including frequent absences, conflicts, inability to meet deadlines
  • Frequent or severe bouts of depression or anger
  • Frequent thoughts or flashbacks to war zone experiences.
  • Inability to stop being hyper-alert or on guard

Such ongoing symptoms could be signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your service member could also be experiencing other common mental health issues such as:

  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts
  • violence and abuse
  • substance abuse

If you are seeing any of these behaviors in your loved one, take the first step by educating yourself. The military and the VA can provide you with helpful information. And you can reach out to organizations like Horizon Health Services, where we work with veterans who are experiencing PTSD, other mental health issues or substance abuse, and their families. At our new Veterans Treatment Center, Freedom Village, we provide specialized individual and family services to help your returning service member adjust to civilian life.

For more information, please call (716) 831-1800.