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Trauma Aftereffect

Q. My husband recently became depressed and very irrational. He told me that he had decided suicide was the thing he should do, and got out 2 guns. I got him help and he was in the hospital for a week and received treatment, both counseling and medication. He came home and feels basically normal now. Because there is a plan to keep him on medication with regular doctor visits and counseling I should just relax and forget about it, and basically go on with my life.

The problem is he does not really remember a lot of what he said and did. However, I will never forget it until the day I die. How can I get him to truly appreciate and recognize the horror I went through? He would prefer not to think about what my life would have been like if he had succeeded, but I can not stop thinking of it.

I know you will suggest counseling, and there is a plan to have me sit in and participate with his counseling sessions. I know some of the time will be directed with helping me. However that hasn't started yet. I expect to get some help when that does start. Is there a book on the subject of how families can cope with the changes in their relationships after a family member has come close to or actually attempted suicide?

Is there any other help that you know of for people in my situation? He seems so much like he has always been, but I feel like I have been changed forever. What can you suggest?

A. You have been through an extremely upsetting and traumatic series of events--it's no wonder you can't simply relax and forget about it! In fact, forgetting about it is the last thing I'd recommend, even if it were possible. Your husband's depressive episode is something to educate yourself about, and perhaps even a reason to seek some therapy for yourself.

This is quite different than sitting in on a session with your husband's therapist--you have been through a severe trauma, and you may need specific help for that. This may include talk therapy, special cognitive-behavioral techniques, and perhaps even some medication. At the same time, it may not be possible to get your husband to appreciate how traumatic all this was for you--he may need to repress the horror of what happened, and trying to push too hard on his defense mechanisms may not be a wise idea.

Of course, a session or two with his therapist, in which you express some of your frustration, could be a safe and helpful exercise--but it's no substitute for getting help for yourself. This is especially true if you continue to ruminate over this episode, experience flashbacks of what happened, feel emotionally distraught or numb, are experiencing difficulty sleeping, or feel down most of the time.

A very good general guide to "Coping with Trauma" is the book of the same title, by Dr. Jon G. Allen. This book not only describes the symptoms and causes of trauma, it also gives you a lot of helpful treatment suggestions. (Again, this is not a substitute for getting some face-to-face help).

You can also find helpful links and support at the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org). The organization NDMDA (National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association) may also provide you with information and support, in order to prepare you for dealing with your husband's problems in the future (www.ndmda.org). You may have been changed forever by what has happened--but that doesn't mean you can't create other, beneficial changes for yourself. I hope these ideas are a start.

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October 2003

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