What You Can Do When Someone You Love Has PTSD

When a loved one suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it is important to know how you can help them and take care of yourself too. The National Center for PTSD estimates that at least 7-8 in 100 people will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. This debilitating condition occurs after trauma, such as military combat, violent crime, or natural disaster.

Many people who experience trauma have symptoms such as reliving the event; avoid situations and places that remind them of the event; be nervous, angry and irritable; and feeling depressed and unable to enjoy life. Most of the time, trauma survivors will start to feel better after a few weeks or months, but if they are still struggling with such symptoms after a while, they can suffer from PTSD.

Here are five key things experts say family members and friends of people with PTSD should know.

1. It can be treated. “PTSD is a mental health problem that requires professional attention,” says Shaili Jain, MD, psychiatrist at the VA Palo Alto Health System in California, affiliated with the National Center for PTSD, operated by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. “It is important to do everything you can to help your loved one seek out a qualified mental health professional to support them on their journey to recovery.” The National Center for PTSD has an online “find a therapist” resource, as well as a host of other support tools such as PTSD treatment decision support, apps and videos.


“While it is certainly possible for people to improve on their own, family members can play an extremely important role in providing a person with PTSD the support they need,” she acknowledges. . “Some treatment programs specifically involve family and partners in the process.”

2. It is not something that “happened in the past”. For someone with PTSD, trauma that may have happened months or years ago is still happening now. “Some people may say, ‘This happened so long ago, it’s time to get over it,’ says clinical psychologist Autumn Gallegos Greenwich, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Medical Center. Rochester who studies body-mind interventions. on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “But no matter when the traumatic event happened, physiologically and psychologically, it still happens for that person. Someone who has not been through such trauma may hear the neighbor pounding loudly on the roof and be surprised, but they can understand the context and move on. But for a person suffering from PTSD, the body will react as if it is in danger. He is always trying to deal with something that is difficult to understand and needs help. “


3. This also happens to you. If you love someone with PTSD, you are also affected.

“People who are close to someone with PTSD also need to take care of themselves,” says Gallegos Greenwich. “This is often forgotten, dismissed or minimized. You might think, “My loved one went through this trauma, not me, so why do I feel this way? But to some extent you are going through it too, and you have to take care of yourself.

“Living with someone with PTSD, especially if you are a caregiver, can be mentally and physically exhausting,” says Schnurr. “Take care of yourself, be kind and forgiving, and take the time to do things that will help you get well. If your partner agrees, couple or family therapy can also be very helpful. “

The National Center for PTSD also has links to help families and friends, including a guide to understanding PTSD and an app called PTSD Family Coach.


4. Don’t over-protect. “You want to reduce your loved one’s distress, but in this case, exposure to distress is part of the therapeutic process,” says Schnurr. For example, if your partner is stressed out when entering open public spaces where there are a lot of things that cannot be controlled, you might want to volunteer to do these errands for them. “But it’s therapeutic to learn to go to these places and stay there long enough to get used to it and learn that it’s safe to be there. Some distress is part of this process as people reflect and feel the trauma. “

5. Set your own limits so PTSD doesn’t control your life. When living with someone who has PTSD, you may feel like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid triggering a stressor. “The most powerful thing you can do is learn to deal with symptoms together, rather than activating or reinforcing them,” Jain says. “Let’s say your partner has PTSD and because of that he doesn’t like crowds and doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, to parties or to a concert. Often times, in an attempt to help, the spouse can reinforce this behavior, saying no to things like family invitations and limiting what they can do on their own in their free time to adjust to the symptoms. So no one is going anywhere.

Instead, understand that this isolation is a symptom of PTSD and that help is available, and in the meantime, find a compromise that works for your family and keeps you doing the things you love to do.

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Jothi Venkat

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