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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

PTSD Through a Child's Eyes

Published July 14, 2010 10:20 AM by Gail Guterl
It's been all over the news for a week now. Veterans of war no longer have to prove a specific event led to their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In his announcement of the change in Veterans Administration policy, President Barack Obama said, "I don't think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application. I've met enough veterans to know that you don't have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war."

The news was welcomed by the military and their families - maybe especially by their families.

Until I received a communication from Debbie Yohn, RN, a Maryland nurse, I never thought about how PTSD affects anyone but the soldier, sailor or Marine. But imagine what it's like for a child to experience PTSD. Daddy or Mommy goes off to war and comes back a different person. How does a child handle that?

Yohn and her 10-year-old son Issaac have attempted to answer those questions in Never Lose Your Hope, a self-published book they've co-authored under the names  Nonna and Isaac. As the book begins, the then 6-year-old youngest child in the family tells of crying when he has to say goodbye to his daddy (whom he calls "my soldier" since a military parent can be a mother or a father) as he leaves for Iraq. He tells of his loneliness when his father is gone and of his joy in being able to welcome him back home after deployment.

But soon that joy disappears when Daddy begins to get short-tempered and withdrawn and Isaac doesn't understand what is happening. Over a 2-year period, Isaac sees a big change in his father and the impact it has on his family.

Finally, help arrives in the form of a wordy "lady" whom Isaac is amazed to learn "went to school 6 years" to learn how to "mostly sit around and talk." But that talk brings about an improvement in his family dynamic and teaches Isaac "the brain is big and has lots of wires in it she called tracks; kind of like a railroad but invisible." The psychologist teaches his family "with PTSD, the tracks skip so it can't think right."

The psychologist points out the entire family is suffering from secondary PTSD which Isaac initially interprets as: "I thought it was because I was in the second grade, but I was wrong."

The book outlines strategies for children "when my soldier is acting bad," such as getting away from conflict by going to your room, going outside and swinging or jumping on the trampoline or going to a neighbor's house. If things get violent, the child is advised to call 911.

Finally, the book lists what can cause trauma in a child, what the symptoms of trauma are and what can be done for the child exposed to a parent with PTSD.

Complete with good editing and poignant illustrations, Don't Lose Your Hope can be a great resource for families dealing with PTSD. I'll keep you posted on its publication. Yohn informs me money from the sale of the book will go into a fund to help provide counseling to families of soldiers experiencing PTSD.


Hi everyone,

I am Debbie Yohn, the book is now on Barnes and Noble. Just to let you know, here in Carroll County where I live we will be using some of the proceeds to help family members of soldiers who suffer from PTSD. Thanks for all the kind words. This is a short book, the wording is that of a child. Enjoy~

Debbie Yohn, Education - RN August 27, 2010 12:39 AM
Baltimore MD

This was an interesting piece and a very important stort to tell. I think it is equally important to tell the plight of children dealing with PTSD issues not having to deal with the war as well. This to could be an interesting piece.

Karen Mann, Psychiatry - RN,BSN, The Jefferson School-Sheppard Pratt Health System July 31, 2010 6:35 PM
Jefferson MD

I started my Residency treating those from the Persian Gulf and have had various Vietnam Vets as clients. These men and women all vary in the way they handle their stressful career and encounters. I see this as a very serious condition which impacts everyone in contact with these brave men and women. I laud this mother and son for the positive way they have handled their loved one. I definitely will be looking for this book when it is available.

Dr. Flo , PsyD/RN July 27, 2010 11:11 PM
Elgin IL

It is good to address the PTSD issue and help where help is needed. PTSD, however, has been in the news much more than one would expect considering the infrequency of its occurrence.  It is a mistake to label all returning combat veterans as “victims” requiring psychiatric assistance.  Most combat veterans returning from a war zone do not return with PTSD. That is not to say that returning from war has no psychological consequences but, rather, that most people return to their lives and learn to cope with their memories over the subsequent years.  It is also true that injuries and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have occurred in much smaller numbers than in any previous American war. Why do I feel I have the right to comment? My husband’s first tour in Vietnam occurred when he was 24; I was pregnant with our third child. His second tour occurred four years later; we had four children at that time. He was a helicopter pilot doing extremely high risk flying every day he was there.  He was shot down once, and his aircraft was shot up several times; his heroism was recognized with multiple awards to include the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross among others. It certainly was not easy for him or for us, but each of us stayed committed to open communication throughout the years. Thirty years after his final return, he launched a website in honor and memory of the many friends he lost in that war ( Millions of people from all over the world have visited that site, and many have found healing there.  His very successful life is not the exception among Vietnam vets but more the rule. Our son has been to Afghanistan twice, and we expect that he will deal with his experiences as so many have done before him.  

Jean Heslin, RN, MS July 27, 2010 9:26 PM
Chester VA

This sounds like a much needed book to help children and others deal with and growth through PTSD.

Suzie Ward, RN/Massage Therapist July 27, 2010 3:17 PM
Gaithersburg MD

I have attended several presentations on PTSD and this is the first time I've seen this perspective. I live in a military community and am a retired army nurse. I would really like to purchase the book mentioned in this article. How could I do that? Thanks for presenting this most important perspective.

Sherry Ferki, Pediatrics - RN - Nursing Instructor, Old Dominion Univ July 27, 2010 10:57 AM
Norfolk VA

I am looking forward to reading the book.  I have spoken to returning nurses and have some understanding of the intensity of their trauma.  Glad that Noona and Issac were able to pen their story.  Our returning soldiers need our understanding and help.  Let's not forget them.

Sophia Schild, Education - RN, Educator, SMEMC July 21, 2010 9:23 AM
Chicago IL

I thought the article was good and I also appreciated the son's viewpoint on his experience w/ his dad. The timimg is excellent as more and more soliders are returning from war in our community. How one approaches another is important even from

kids perspective. Sensitivity matters.

Carol Anaski-figurski, case mgmt - RN BSN, tbd July 21, 2010 9:08 AM
Oswego IL

I have not read this book, but would like to.  It sounds like this would be a good reference for anyone searching for a view of PTSD in easily understood terms.  I especially like the perspective of seeing through the child's eyes.

Susie Cook, MSN, FNP

Susie Cook, Family Practice - Family Nurse Practitioner, Plymouth Family and Internal Medicine July 21, 2010 7:20 AM
Plymouth IN

I have not read Ms. Yohn's and her son's work, but I commend them both for offering their experiences for the purpose of hope and healing for themselves and countless others.

Thank you.

Sally Balman, RN

(A long-time wife/mother "veteran" of the PTSD journey)

Sally, College Health - RN July 20, 2010 8:33 PM
Lancaster PA

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