Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and debilitating disorder. Those who suffer from PTSD can find hardships in many aspects of their lives as the effects of their traumatic experiences can manifest in a number of different ways. PTSD affects many people, from those directly affected by the trauma to the loved ones doing their best to support someone with PTSD. Living with someone who has PTSD and learning how to support someone with PTSD is difficult, but entirely possible. Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will likely need a dedicated, educated kind of support who knows how to calm someone with PTSD or how to talk to someone with PTSD in a way that is supportive, productive, and cognizant of the unique trials and difficulties that traumatic experiences present each and every day.
Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that arises from exposure to intensely traumatic experiences. Those who suffer from PTSD may have gone through several different situations, including experiences such as the loss of a loved one, witnessing natural disasters or acts of violence, being victims of physical or sexual abuse, or being the recipients of direct threats on their own life or safety. These kinds of intense traumas can alter the way in which a person views the world, making their environment seem much more pessimistic or hostile.
These traumatic experiences are unlikely to go away on their own, and thoughts and fears regarding these life-changing events may continue for many years. Overcoming this trauma and the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder is not a question of willpower — PTSD is an intense and serious mental health condition that requires the aid of professionally-trained support programs, as well as educated and supportive family members.
Recognizing Signs of PTSD
There are many different signs that can be indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder. While not every person will exhibit all of the same signs, it is still important to be ready to recognize these signs in order to know how to help a friend with PTSD.
Avoidance/Isolation: An individual may avoid places where the trauma took place, or even seem to wall themselves off from others or the world entirely, in an effort to protect themselves from further trauma.
Intrusive Thoughts or Memories: Thoughts of traumatic experiences can resurface at any time, and can impede whatever tasks an individual is looking to accomplish. Intrusive thoughts or memories can occur at any time, making it very difficult to focus.
Altered Worldview: Unique traumatic experiences can change how a person views the world, creating a more negative or pessimistic outlook that may not have been present before one’s traumatic experience.
Behavior Changes: Behavioral changes, including changes in hobbies or attitudes, can be indicative of the fundamental way in which trauma has affected the way a person processes their surroundings.
Nightmares or Flashbacks: Intense, vivid recollections of the traumatic event that can feel paralyzing and real. These can occur with or without particular triggers and can make going through regular routines incredibly difficult.
Anxiety: An increased sense of worry or distress about the world, and can make a person constantly feel “on edge” or as if they are in a constant state of danger.
Depression: A perpetual state of sadness that can feel debilitating, and even leading towards the questioning of one’s sense of self-image.
Emotional Outbursts: Trauma can make it difficult to otherwise regulate one’s emotions, leading to intense and sudden expressions of anger or frustration.
Personal Health Routines: The daily hindrances posed by various symptoms of PTSD can make it difficult to accomplish or maintain regular hygiene routines, such as showers, or keep healthy eating schedules. Eating irregular meals, or skipping them entirely, is possible.
Suicidal Ideology: The constant state of fear or pain caused by these traumatic experiences can lead a person to feel desperate to make the pain stop by any means necessary, and can even lead to suicidal thoughts in an effort to cease the pain.
Tips for Helping Someone With PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complicated issue that requires education and a genuine sense of care. Each individual’s experience with PTSD will be different, and it is important to adapt these supportive techniques in a way that is personal to the loved one who needs the support.
Educate Yourself on PTSD: Education about PTSD can give a better understanding of the symptoms and hardships a loved one faces each day. Better knowing these issues can help inform how to help people with PTSD. It can also help inform an individual of what to say to someone with PTSD.
Listen to Them: Listening to traumatic recounts may be difficult, but it is important. Listening means making time for them to talk through the issues they face, as well as ensures that supports are not making any assumptions about another’s PTSD.
Don’t Judge: The intense, personal experience of trauma can be difficult to understand for those who have not experienced it, and knowing this means avoiding judgments on others and their actions through such a dire and intense time.
Learn Their Triggers: Paying attention to when and how an individual responds to certain stressors can inform a person of their loved one’s triggers. Knowing these can enable you to help a person better avoid these triggers in the future, as well as create a comprehensive, personalized approach to how support is offered.
Be Patient: Recovery from trauma takes a long time, and many people may have to cope with their PTSD for the rest of their lives. There is no timeframe in which a person can simply be expected to have gotten over their trauma, and being patient means setting realistic expectations for recovery. Understand that while a treatment program may end, it doesn’t mean the person’s recovery from trauma has any kind of set end-date.
Show Respect: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a difficult mental disorder that requires unique care. However, it is still important to show respect to the loved one affected by it, regardless of any kind of additional support needed.
Plan Ahead for Difficult Times: Creating a plan is important, and just because a loved one has been coping well recently doesn’t mean there can’t still be difficult times ahead. Being prepared for stressors or triggers creating new hardships is paramount for implementing a plan, and having guidance on how to address the situation.
Look Out for Warning Signs: Being vigilant for warning signs and symptoms of PTSD can enable a person suffering from PTSD, as well as their supports, to be ready to act. Each person may have their own unique warning signs, and learning these signs can help prevent unforeseen complications or unhealthy coping strategies.
Encourage Them to Seek Treatment: Providing educated support is undeniably helpful, but PTSD will also require the assistance of caring, trained professionals at treatment programs to fully explore the effects of traumatic experiences. Outlining these treatment programs as assistance for specific situations and highlighting the goals of those who suffer from PTSD for themselves can help open an individual up to the idea, and further encourage them to pursue treatment for personal reasons.
Take Care of Yourself: Providing support can be exhausting, and it is important to take as much time for yourself as you would give to another. Taking time for self-care and personal interests while providing support to others with PTSD is by no means selfish, and can lead to a better mental state as well as more effective and honest support strategies. This also helps supports avoid other complications, such as exhaustion or compassion fatigue.