Generational PTSD

By Steven Smith – Retired Assistant Chief

We get a lot from our parents and heritage. I have my mother’s eyes as she had her mother’s eyes, I have my father to thank for being mechanically inclined. I could go on but you get the point. We receive so much from our parents and ancestors through DNA and learned behavior. Have you asked what if they passed down something that wasn’t beneficial? New studies are showing that PTSD can be passed not only through learned behavior, but through DNA.

As with any organism there are natural fears that are passed down through to their offspring, some of which are learned and some are through nature. We can talk all day about how children seeing PTSD related behaviors from their parents and how they manifest those behaviors, but those are learned behaviors. What about the nature effect? An example would be a natural fear of predatory animals. You’ve never been exposed to them, but if you see them in person, you have a feeling of intimidation and adrenaline dump.

Long term exposure to stressors can cause a DNA change that can be passed down to our offspring as an evolutionary trait. What most people do not realize is that PTSD is actually form of an evolutionary trait for survival. The issue is if you apply that to the modern world of the 1st responder you can began to see how that is not a beneficial trait. That kind trait in the modern world tends to cause more harm than good. The response to the stressors can be fear, aggression, violence, and numerous other actions. All of which be useful for our ancestors in life threatening situations of the past, but are not beneficial or helpful in modern times.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there seems to be accumulating evidence to suggest the trans-generational transmission of DNA methylation changes from parents to children. They are looking into whether exposure while pregnant possibly compounds the effect on the children.

According to Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School that between 50 to 85% of Americans will be exposed to traumatic event, but less than 8% will seek treatment. That leaves 42 to 77% untreated Americans with the potential through behavior and genetics to pass on to their children. I believe this is creating a snowball effect. With the uptick in crime and behavioral problems in children, it leads me to wonder if this is a contributing factor.

I grew up in a home with PTSD. My father had it from Vietnam. This was in the late 70s and 80s. Back then there was no real push for those with PTSD to get help. So we lived with his untreated PTSD for years. Eventually he did go get help and it actually did help. Now, as an adult I’ve experienced my own trauma  as a 1st responder., fights, bad calls, wrecks, hurt children, getting shot, etc. I have multiple layers of PTSD I can’t say I’ve lived through everything as 1st responder, but I can say that have been through quite a bit.

So where do I go from here? I have a beautiful almost 3 year old daughter. Have passed the multi-generational PTSD gene down? I’m sure that I have, but I hope that it is not in full effect or doesn’t manifest in her. However, that it is out of my control. What is in my control is how I act in behave. I went and got help, because I wasn’t what she or my wife needed. I had to take the steps to heal from my trauma. By doing this I am doing everything that I can that this ends here. The monster in my bloodline, PTSD ends here.

The question is are you willing to do what you can to stop it, to be what your family needs, and to be what you need? Are you willing to stand as the example not a statistic? Be the difference, make the call.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

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Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008