PTSD After Father’s Disappearance

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I never knew my dad. When I was 12 (2007) my long-lost family (dad’s side) contacts my mom and I. They tell us that my dad disappeared after receiving his suicide letter in the mail. They searched for him, but never found his body. Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Although, my mom had noticed that I had a slight anxiety disorder as a youth but, panic attacks have increased in the past few years (since 2011).

I get very emotional talking about my father’s disappearance. Sometimes, I feel that I am turning into him: I push people away and I feel that I may kill myself or disappear. I don’t have much hope for my future; I just take it day by day and I cannot visualize my college graduation. I have found that I self-sooth by rocking my body. My dreams are vivid and realistic and I have difficulty distinguishing them from reality. I have a memory problem because I cannot remember what I say and I tend to re-tell things to people. Please give me an idea of what I am going through. Thanks.

A. You seem to be experiencing a combination of anxiety and depression. Your symptoms may have been triggered upon your learning of your father’s disappearance.

In the absence of treatment, anxiety disorders tend to become worse over time. This seems to have been the case with you. Anxiety was a problem for you as a youth, but has since morphed into panic attacks, a more severe form of anxiety. Panic attacks often stem from the fundamental idea of losing control. The fact that your father went missing, and that his body was never recovered, may be at the heart of your anxiety.

Psychologically, the idea of a parent going missing and never being found is frightening; it’s a complete loss of control.

Your symptoms are significantly interfering with your life and thus require immediate treatment. Anxiety and panic attacks are typically treated with psychotherapy and medication or a combination of both. Anti-anxiety medications are quite powerful and can significantly reduce your symptoms. You shouldn’t wait to seek help. The longer you wait, the worse your symptoms are likely to become.

You are concerned that you are turning into your father, but with the proper treatment, that fear will go away. At this moment, you have the power to decide to seek treatment. That decision would mean that you are taking the necessary steps to regain power and to control your life. I hope that you will take my advice. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Mar 2014

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2014). PTSD After Father’s Disappearance. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/03/12/ptsd-after-fathers-disappearance/