Can Parents Experience PTSD from Their Child’s Heart Condition? (Part 2)
In our last blog post, we tackled an experience that most parents of children with serious heart conditions have probably faced—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Many heart transplant parents are understandably consumed with being by their child’s bedside. But with that, they neglect themselves, even when they are showing clear signs of PTSD or extreme anxiety.
Here’s why ignoring those signs is so dangerous: It increases the chance that these parents will slip into a funk that they can’t get out of. That could put the child’s health at risk, especially if, after they take the child home, parents are unable to stay on top of medications, doctors appointments, developmental milestones and finances.
But, there are several ways parents can prevent the stress of traumatic experiences with their child’s heart condition from developing into PTSD.
Here are 5 ways to address potential PTSD in yourself or your spouse if your child is grappling with a heart condition:
There’s still a stigma around admitting that you could have a mental health issue. Many people regard it as a sign of weakness, even if it is not.
But you don’t have to prove that to anyone. If you’re front and center, helping your child get through a serious heart condition, no one can question your strength. It’s already obvious.
This is especially important for fathers. Dads of children who have been hospitalized in intensive care are more likely than moms to meet the criteria for PTSD 4 months later, according to a March 2009 study in the journal Psychosomatics.
If you are noticing signs of PTSD, consider at least meeting with a counselor. That way you can determine if further therapy is necessary.
I’ve noticed that the stronger the support system parents have, the better they are able to handle the traumatic events that happen during their child’s heart condition. For one, they have more people they can tap for help with things like caring for other children, transportation and finances.
Also, if you decide therapy is best for your symptoms, support from loved ones can make that therapy more effective, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Supportive loved ones can also help you identify and address triggers for PTSD symptoms.
As a children’s hospital, we know that it’s not enough to just help the child. The parents and siblings are going through this, too. We have therapists on site who can treat family members who have PTSD.
Every hospital is different, but check with your child’s hospital about their on-site resources as well, especially if you’re spending a lot of time there while your child is in treatment. If they don’t have resources right at the hospital, ask if they can refer you to a mental health expert who is familiar with PTSD in pediatric heart patients and families.
Many of our families are on the other side of the trauma. This means their children have experienced the worst of their heart conditions, and they’re now on the road to being healthy, active kids. When you ask their parents what got them through, many will point to their faith.
In addition to seeking counseling, practicing your faith—whether that’s prayer, meditation, reading your faith’s sacred texts or talking to your pastor—may help calm the stress response to your child’s ups and down.
Remember that your own health is still important, too. Proper nutrition, adequate sleep and regular exercise are the best line of defense against most health conditions, including PTSD.
Even if your child is hospitalized, you, as the parent, have to find a way to take care of yourself. A journey this stressful means your body needs all the help it can get to stay healthy.