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How to Support A Loved One Who Has PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that arises in people who have experienced traumatic events. Examples of traumatic events that could lead to developing PTSD include being a victim of abuse, being involved in an accident, natural disasters, injury, illnesses, war/combat, or experiencing a death. People with PTSD can have haunting thoughts about their traumatic experiences long after the event ends.

Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Involuntary memories or flashbacks
  • Avoidance, avoiding people, places, and objects that may bring back bad memories
  • Negative thoughts and feelings
  • Self-blame
  • Fear
  • Being irritable
  • Having anger outbursts
  • Constantly being on high alert
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm

PTSD doesn’t only affect the person who lives with the trauma, it can also take a toll on friends and family members as well. If you know someone with PTSD, you may have to experience their outbursts of anger, fear, sadness, or feel them distancing themselves from you. You may feel helpless somedays or like you are living with a complete stranger.

It’s important to remember that people living with PTSD often do not have a lot of control over their behavior. Your loved one is not trying to be difficult or worry you, and they still need your unconditional love and support. There are a number of ways you can support a loved one suffering from PTSD and help them cope with their trauma.

Learn How to Listen

Never be pushy or try to make someone with PTSD talk about their experiences, but do let them know that you are there to listen when they need someone to talk to. Let them know that you care for them and that you are genuinely interested in all that they have to say. Try to listen without providing any judgment or unsolicited advice. The most helpful thing you can do is simply listen to them, even if you don’t have anything to say in return.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when listening to someone share about their trauma:

  • Don’t dismiss their feelings and tell them everything will be okay.
  • Don’t blame any relationship issues on their PTSD.
  • Don’t relate their experiences to your own.
  • Don’t pretend to understand what they are going through, just be there for them.
  • Don’t invalidate their experiences or tell them “it could have been worse.”

Continue to Offer Social Support

Try not to treat your loved ones differently because of their PTSD. If you used to take them out every Sunday to see a movie and get lunch, continue to offer that social support to them. Find fun things to do that do not relate to their traumatic experience. It’s also important to encourage them to participate in hobbies, make new friends, and pursue their passions.

Practice Stress Management Techniques

PTSD is much harder to manage and control than your normal, everyday stress. Instead of putting all of the pressure on your loved one, try to practice being calmer and understanding by managing your own stress first. The more relaxed you are the better you’ll be able to support others.

You can help manage your stress by practicing the following stress management techniques:

  • Mindful meditation
  • Deep breathing practices
  • Exercising
  • Talk therapy
  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Prioritizing sleep

Help Build an Environment of Trust & Safety

Living with trauma can put a person on edge and make them feel like they are living in a state of constant fear and danger. It can be difficult for someone living with PTSD to feel safe and trust others. It’s important to help build a safe environment for that person and help them establish trust in others.

You can start rebuilding trust by always reassuring your loved one that you are there for them. Make sure to not make any promises you cannot keep, and continue to show up for them even on difficult days. Help them build self-trust by empowering them with words of encouragement. Let them know they are loved, valued, and reassure them of your constant support.

You can help build a sense of security by helping them establish normal predictable routines. Try to add activities that you do together as part of your normal routine, even if it’s something as simple as folding laundry or going grocery shopping. Try to be home around the same time every day if you live with someone with PTSD. It’s important for them to know when you will be there for them.

Learn to Anticipate Triggers

Triggers are anything that reminds your loved one of their trauma and can elicit PTSD symptoms like anger or flashbacks. Triggers can be anything related to their experiences like specific sounds, smells, or sights. Some triggers will be easier to identify than others. For instance, for a victim of a shooting, loud noises like gunshots, fireworks, or even car motors could trigger their PTSD. However, a more difficult trigger to spot could be being around people who share a similar demeanor to the shooter, or even the smell of the air the day that the traumatic event occurred.

Common triggers include:

  • People
  • Places
  • Significant dates or times
  • Weather
  • News events
  • Traffic
  • Seeing a doctor
  • Arguments
  • Work
  • Funerals
  • Sounds
  • Physical discomfort
  • Injuries

Learning what triggers may affect your loved one can help you avoid setting off any symptoms. Don’t be afraid to have an honest conversation with your loved ones about what triggers they have noticed and create a plan of action for managing triggers. Talk about specific ways that you can help ground them if they experience flashbacks or panic attacks. Tricks to help people feel grounded include talking with them about the environment they are in, describing the scenery and smells, letting them know they are experiencing a flashback and that it is not really happening, helping them take deep breaths, and always asking before suddenly touching or moving them.

Help Them Seek Treatment

People who struggle with a mental health condition often need professional help to manage their conditions and get back to feeling like themselves again. Telling a loved one they need therapy can be a touchy subject, but it is an important conversation to have nonetheless. Spend some time thinking about how you can start the conversation with your loved ones without making them feel broken or crazy. Address it from a more practical and loving standpoint so they can develop skills to help them get back to being themselves and enjoying all that life has to offer.

Educate yourself on why treatment is necessary and help emphasize the benefits to your loved one. Some of the benefits include helping them feel more in control of their life again, reducing stress and anxiety, and becoming more independent. When speaking with your loved one about receiving treatment, acknowledge their fears and concerns. Treatment won’t be an instant cure and will take a lot of work, but it is worth the effort if it helps reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

Help them take the steps necessary for setting up treatment, including calling treatment facilities, calling their insurance company, and learning what methods of treatment will be right for them. Seeking help can be a very overwhelming task for some people, and if a person can’t figure out who to call or where to seek help, they may give up trying. Let them know they are not alone, and show them by taking that first step to finding treatment with them.

If you have any questions about seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one suffering from PTSD, please call us anytime at 888-255-9280. Jackson House has a highly skilled team of mental health professionals who are dedicated to helping individuals overcome their trauma.

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If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (888) 255-9280. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.