Understanding the emotional response of being a young carer of a combat veteran with PTSD: a narrative inquiry

Watson, Paul Gareth (2022) Understanding the emotional response of being a young carer of a combat veteran with PTSD: a narrative inquiry. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Due to extended military commitments and deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 20 years, the ferocity of combat has led to some serving members of the military returning home with physical and mental health issues including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of these individuals are parents and their PTSD diagnosis is likely to have a significant impact on their children. Much of the research which has been undertaken in relation to military families points to a lack of supportive structures post combat operations and highlights poor family integration and functioning leaving many children within the military community at risk of presenting with behavioural, emotional and mental health issues.

Young carers are a group of children and young people who provide a vital role within their families and their communities by providing unpaid care to a family member over prolonged periods of time. It is not known how many children and young people within the military community undertake caring responsibilities and to date no studies have explored the emotional impact of being a young carer to a veteran parent with PTSD or investigated the impact that providing care has on child/parent relationships.

This study sought to identify the lived experience of young carers of veterans with combat related PTSD by investigating their own perspectives as well as the perspectives of their mothers. Narrative inquiry was used to capture the narratives of the young carers in order to understand the emotional impact that caring had on them and how it impacted on their relationship with the parent with PTSD. The narratives of the young carers’ mothers were also captured. This enabled the researcher to produce stories of how young carers who were caring for a veteran parent with PTSD were able to renegotiate family life and family relationships and manage their emotions post diagnosis.

The theoretical lens of this study is situated in Symbolic Interactionism (Bulmer, 1969), an ontological assumption based on the belief that reality is ‘socially constructed’, and an emic epistemological foundation built on subjective lived experience. The study investigated how the young carers orientated their thoughts, feelings and emotions based on their activities of daily living and their interactions with their families, friends, and their community, whilst providing care for a veteran parent with combat related PTSD.

Interviews were used to capture and explore the participants’ narratives. Using Narrative Inquiry as a qualitative method and subsequently inquiring into the meaning of the narratives furthered understanding of family relationships and roles undertaken within the family environment. It also furthered understanding of what it is like to care for a parent with PTSD by capturing the emotional costs for the child by considering their lives pre-PTSD presentation as well as post-PTSD diagnosis.

Qualitative interviews with 4 young carers from 3 families and their mothers were used to address the aims of the study. The young carers, two girls and two boys who were aged between 12 and 16 years of age were all providing care to a veteran father or stepfather, but they did not necessarily identify as ‘young carers’.

The findings of this study suggest there may be common experiences amongst young carers who care for a veteran with PTSD. All of the participants’ emotional health was adversely affected by being a young carer to a father/stepfather with a PTSD diagnosis as was their social connectedness and the functionality of their family. However, whilst the young carers within this study all shared similar experiences in terms of providing care for a father with a diagnosis of PTSD due to military combat exposure, each family, and each young carers’ experience was unique.

The findings suggest there is a need for policy makers and service providers to devise a universal definition of ‘what’ a young carer is in order to aid identification of young carers in military families. There is also a need to provide specific service provision for young carers from the military community so we can better meet their unique needs. This should be co- constructed with young carers themselves and their views should inform future policy developments. The findings suggest those who provide support to young carers and their families may also benefit from military awareness training.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: children and young people, military, mental illness, emotional health, attachment
Subjects: C800 Psychology
L900 Others in Social studies
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Nursing, Midwifery and Health
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2022 08:22
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2022 08:30
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/50651

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