How to help your child cope with PTSD after a sibling’s death
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Having one of your children pass away can cause an imaginable pain that refuses to fade. While the death of a person is a loss to all of those closest to them, their immediate family feels it the most. And if you’re a parent who lost a child, it’s easy to think of the pain as yours alone. But if you have had more than one kid, the others are probably hurting just as much. It’s important for parents to know that grief is felt throughout the entire family, and a sibling’s death can cause long-lasting mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD after the death of a sibling is possible, but it’s important to note that there is a difference between PTSD and normal grief. While everyone goes through their own bereavement process, PTSD can have longer, deeper symptoms that interfere with everyday responsibilities and relationships. Even if your child wasn’t present for their sibling’s death, they can still develop PTSD as the disorder is brought on by sudden, painful events. A death is always painful and often happens unexpectedly. 

PTSD symptoms to look for after the death of a sibling

PTSD has symptoms that must be shown for at least a month to be diagnosed, though they may not be exhibited immediately after the death of their sibling. Some common PTSD symptoms siblings may develop include: 

  • Intrusive thoughts — These types of thoughts can be very upsetting, and they often take the form of vivid nightmares linked to the memories. These thoughts play out like flashbacks of the moments surrounding the death.
  • Negative thoughts and emotions — A distorted sense of self from PTSD can cause anger, fear, shame and detachment in people. This can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships and daily responsibilities. 
  • Avoidance — PTSD can result in individuals avoiding people, situations and places out of fear that they will trigger memories from their traumatic experiences.
  • Arousal and reactivity — Acting recklessly in a self-destructive manner is common for people struggling with PTSD. This behavior can include angry outbursts and trouble sleeping and/or concentrating.

6 steps you can take to help your child through their PTSD

Many people with PTSD struggle to talk about their experiences because others can’t connect to their feelings. While you and your child are both dealing with the same loss, you each had different connections to the person. While there is nothing like a parent’s love, siblings can have a relationship that you may not be able to understand, regardless of whether they fought like cats and dogs or were attached at the hip. 

It’s important that you take steps to understand your child’s relationship to their lost sibling and take steps to help with their PTSD. Here are a few steps you can take that may help accomplish these goals:

  • Don’t minimize your own grief — Family members may feel like they need to minimize their grief in order to stay strong for the rest, which doesn’t give them their own time and emotional capacity to mourn. Being open about your grief with your child can help them understand that they can talk openly with you about their own feelings. 
  • Don’t forget that your child is grieving, too — The opposite of minimizing is also common. This occurs when you get so caught up in your own bereavement that you forget your child is going through it on their own. Again, it can help to talk with your child about your own feelings and ask questions about theirs. Let them know that even though you’re also grieving, you can still be there for them and validate their complicated emotions.
  • Try to understand your child’s relationship with their lost siblingCommunication can help with many mental health struggles, but it can be especially effective in cases of post-loss PTSD. Open communication with your child allows you to ask them about their sibling relationship. A better understanding of this relationship can help you understand how to better support them through their own recovery journey. 
  • Rely on your support systems — Families are like a built-in support system, which is essential in a mental health treatment journey. Talking about your feelings surrounding the death can not only help your child feel understood and validated, but it will also help them see that you will stay by their side while they get the help that they need to heal. It can also be helpful to rely on other support systems in your life, too. For example, your friends can help you and your family cope with daily tasks and chores as you grieve and help your child with their PTSD. Often, you need only ask for their help. 
  • Work to minimize PTSD triggers — Minimizing triggers can play a key role in the PTSD treatment journey after a sibling passes. As a parent, and supporter, it’s important to be aware of certain places or situations that can result in a flashback. This can be especially difficult for the loss of a sibling, as triggers may include seeing the bedroom of the deceased or family photos.
  • Meet with a mental health professional — Setting up a meeting with you, your child and a mental health provider can help determine the best course of action for PTSD treatment. Not only will this help your child gain the resources they need, but it will help you understand their diagnosis and how you can help. Second opinions can make a big difference and relieve the feelings of the unknown. 

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help your child with PTSD after their sibling passes

Learning that your child has been diagnosed with PTSD after their sibling’s death can be confusing, but we are here to help. Change is possible. When your child needs help after the loss of their sibling, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward their fullest, brightest version of themselves.

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