One in five partners of Kiwi military and emergency workers could be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, a new study shows.
University of Auckland PhD student Stowe Alrutz surveyed almost 700 partners of New Zealand Defence Force, police, fire and ambulance staff and found 20.5 per cent showed signs they may be suffering from secondary trauma.
Of those, 7 per cent were thought to be severely affected.
Just over 22 per cent were also found to have low resilience, making it harder for them to recover.
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Alrutz was actively involved in United States' Army family support programmes and the American Red Cross before emigrating to New Zealand.
She wasn't surprised by the findings, which came from some of the 20,000 partners of Kiwi military and emergency services' workers.
Partners sometimes acted as counsellors for their spouse. Even if that trauma was not shared, it could affect the relationship through "disruptive behaviours", she said.
"A lot of times when things start to go south people think, 'Oh, it must be my marriage'. But it could just be that they're suffering. You need to know what the signs are."
The military already gave information to partners but emergency services' employers could do more to make sure partners knew the signs and where to get help, Alrutz said.
Police Association President Greg O'Connor said traumatic incidents, such as shootings, could be harder on partners because officers could overcome any fears by returning to work. "Partners are locked into that previous event for a lot longer."
New Zealand Professional Firefighters' Union secretary Derek Best said firefighters were dealing with more traumatic incidents, including the aftermath of suicides and vehicle crashes. "We're trying to improve our ability to recognise and help those people," Best said.