Mental Illness Awareness Week: Recognizing and Coping with PTSD in Your Foster Child

Mental Illness Awareness Week

When you hear of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you may associate it with a condition many war veterans are diagnosed with. While this is true, it is a myth the think that only veterans of war deal with this illness. What may come as a surprise to you is that PTSD affects millions of Americans, many of who have not been to Vietnam, Iraq or any military war zones. For many children in foster care, their homes have been war zones, and they have felt the traumatic effects from experiencing abuse or neglect. In recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week, we are going to discuss how to recognize PTSD in your foster child and what you can do to help.

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying or traumatic event. PTSD can develop when someone does not have proper coping mechanisms to address the event or events that caused the trauma to occur. This results in symptoms of severe anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks. There are many cases when a child in care has endured physical, emotional and even sexual abuse. For a child who has to be removed from his home due to neglect or abuse, traumatic experiences are a common occurrence. If PTSD goes unrecognized, it can result in a variety of issues like lack of performance in school, psychological problems and substance abuse. It’s important to understand that PTSD can happen, and when you recognize the signs it’s important to address them immediately.

Once PTSD is recognized and addressed, your child in care is on his way to recovery. However, being there for a foster child that battles PTSD is challenging. To ease the stress of coping with your foster child’s PTSD, it is important that you take care of yourself. Failing to do so can result in what is known as “compassion fatigue” or secondary traumatic stress (http://www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/compassionfatigue.html ). Compassion fatigue comes from focusing on others so much that you neglect tending to your own needs. Suffering from compassion fatigue can bring desensitization to what your child in care is facing; this in turn, will only bring harm to you and your child in care if not properly dealt with.

If you recognize the signs of PTSD in your foster child and take the proper steps in coping with the condition in your child in care, as well as maintain your own well-being, it will give you peace of mind and lessen the negative impact on your family and society as a whole. What can you do to care for yourself and your child in care at the same time? There are many stress relieving activities you can participate in: do your favorite hobby, meditate, exercise or go on a day trip to get away and relax. Also, it’s important that you keep the lines of communication open. Talk about what you are going through when you hit rough patches. Sometimes, all you need is someone who will listen.
Where To Go For Help

Once you recognize signs of PTSD in your foster child, it is important you reach out to his caseworker or doctor. The sooner you learn this condition exists in your family, the sooner you can get help and make steps toward a healthy future. For an in depth look at PTSD including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and other helpful information, you can access FAFS’ home correspondence course: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: No War Needed. It is available for free to licensed resource parents in New Jersey. With your help, your child in care will not be conquered by PTSD.

Author: Salendria Mabrey, FAFS Communication & Development Associate

Salendria Mabrey is a Communication and Development Associate at Foster and Adoptive Family Services.

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