In this brief guide, we cover how you can help someone with PTSD, the kind of care you can provide during their experience and what you can do after.
How to help someone with PTSD?
You may be asking yourself “How to help someone with PTSD?”, well, if someone close to you has Post-traumatic stress disorder it can leave you feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or exhausted. You may have also asked yourself “what can I do?” or “What can I say?”. Well, here we give you some tips.
If you live with someone with PTSD you know how it can have a heavy toll on your relationship with them. It can be difficult to accept and understand their behavior and why sometimes they are more irritable and less affectionate which can make you feel confused and give you that sensation that you are living with a stranger.
PTSD can, not only cause distress in your relationship with that person but can also carry other problems such as substance abuse, losing their job, financial difficulties, and other problems. This is why it is so difficult not to take the symptoms personally but rest assured it is not your fault and blaming them won’t help them either.
Someone with PTSD can have an overreactive behavior since they are constantly on alert, making them irritable, angry and with a constant feeling of being unsafe, and vulnerable.
PTSD can happen to anyone and it is more common than you might think. For instance, it is very common for combat veterans, military personnel, assault/abuse survivors or car crash victims to develop PTSD.
Even though it shares some common symptoms with anxiety disorders, PTSD has its own diagnostic category and criteria. So someone with PTSD can experience or manifest some of the symptoms after or long past the exposure to a traumatic event:
- Intrusive memories of the event. We need to differentiate between thinking about the event deliberately and getting disturbing thoughts at any time and anywhere, and they related to the event.
- Avoidant behavior. This is very common, avoiding to think about the event or maybe visiting places, people or situations can prevent the memory from being re-experienced again.
- Behavioral changes. Someone with PTSD can suddenly start having certain personality traits they didn’t before such as a bad temper or irritability. They can easily jump or startle at the slightest noise or situation, making them have problems going to sleep, staying asleep or both.
- Negative cognitions and emotions. When you have PTSD, negative thoughts can make you believe the traumatic event was your fault so you are the only person to blame for it or they may think how, if they did thing differently well, things could have gone differently.
Also, they have this persistent guilt, shame and anger towards themselves and what happened. They tend not to trust others, have feelings of estrangement, disinterest, loss of motivation and detachment from others.
Tip 1: Educate yourself about PTSD
If you learn what are the symptoms, what does it mean to have PTSD, the effects and treatment options available then, the better equipped you are to help them understand what they are going through and keep things under perspective.
Tip 2: Make them feel you are there for them
When someone has PTSD is very common to withdraw socially from friends and family. According to the Helpguide.org, “it is important to respect your loved one’s boundaries, your comfort and support can help the person with PTSD overcome feelings of helplessness, grief, and despair. In fact, trauma experts believe that face-to-face support from others is the most important factor in PTSD recovery.”
Knowing how to demonstrate that you are there for them, that you care and you love them is not always easy but it is not impossible, it requires patience and time. Forcing them to get better or to change their behavior won’t work and you will end up pushing them further away, however, just being there for them and spending quality time together can make them feel supported and loved.
Tip 3: Avoid pressuring them into talking
Don’t pressure your loved one into talking. It can be very difficult for people with PTSD to talk about their traumatic experiences. For some people, it can even have the opposite effect and they will end up feeling worse. Instead, let them know you’re available and willing to listen to them when they are ready to talk or feel the most comfortable.
Comforting someone that has PTSD doesn’t necessarily mean that you talk to them all the time. Sometimes just staying quiet and being in their presence can actually help to comfort them.
Tip 4: Try doing normal daily activities with them
Do “normal” things with your loved one, things that have nothing to do with PTSD or the traumatic experience. Encourage them to be more involved or engage in participating from a rhythmic exercise, going out with friends and family, and pursue hobbies and activities that they enjoy and can become pleasurable. Take a fitness class together, go dancing, or set a regular lunch date with friends and family.
Let your loved one take the lead, rather than telling him or her what to do. Everyone with PTSD is different but most people instinctively know what makes them feel calm and safe. Acknowledge the hints your friend or loved one is giving you as to how you can best provide support and companionship.
Tip 5: Learn to manage your own stress
When you are helping someone with PTSD to recover, sometimes it is inevitable to feel stressed and as if you just want to give up. However, the more in control of your emotions and reactions you can be, the better help you can provide them. If necessary, try going to therapy so you can learn how to cope with the stress and arm yourself with the tools to help your loved one.
Tip 6: Anticipate their triggers
Anticipating their triggers can help you to respond better to those situations where they have an episode. Triggers can be people, places or things that can emulate or bring back memories of the event.
Some triggers can become obvious after you have analyzed their behavior but others don’t seem to have a relationship. Most of the common triggers can be crowded places, confined spaces, physical contact, physical constraints, funeral homes or hospitals.
Once you have learned and identified them, you can anticipate their needs and episodes, having an action plan to set in motion once it does happen or simply letting you react on time.
Help them to find support
If they have asked you or they are thinking to get support, you could help your friend or family member to find the support they need. Here are some recommendations from Mind.org.uk:
- You could look through the list of relevant organizations in their page on useful contacts for PTSD.
- Their pages on supporting someone who is self-harming and supporting someone who feels suicidal can help if someone you care about is harming themselves or struggling with thoughts of suicide.
For example, if you’re dating someone with PTSD, you should know ways of coping with them and helping them.
Things to avoid when helping someone with PTSD
According to helpguide.org, there are some things that we need to avoid when helping someone recover from PTSD:
- Don’t give easy answers or blithely tell your loved one everything is going to be okay, this won’t give them any sense of support or comfort
- Don’t stop or interrupt your loved one from talking about their feelings or fears
- Don’t offer unsolicited advice or tell your loved one what they “should” do
- Don’t blame all of your relationship or family problems on your loved one’s PTSD
- Don’t invalidate, minimize, or deny your loved one’s traumatic experience
- Don’t give ultimatums or make threats or demands
- Don’t make your loved one feel weak because they aren’t coping as well as others
- Don’t tell your loved one they were lucky it wasn’t worse
- Don’t take over with your own personal experiences or feelings
Why is this blog about “How to help someone with PTSD?” important?
Helping someone with a mental illness such as PTSD is not easy. It requires patience, effort, support, understanding, among other things. However, in the end, it can be very satisfying when you notice how your loved one is on their path to recovery. Additionally, we discussed how PTSD differs from an anxiety disorder and the main differences.
We have discussed how PTSD can affect your relationship, how understanding what PTSD is, what it means to have PTSD and how to identify triggers, what to do and what to avoid, can actually be very helpful when helping someone with this mental illness.
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