How To Support Someone Close To You Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. For example, physical or sexual assault, a natural disaster, war, an accident or the death of a loved one.

These events can be shocking and overwhelming, making it very hard to come to terms with and process them in our minds. Feelings of fear, sadness, anger and grief are common after going through a traumatic event, but over time with the support of family and friends to help you work through your emotions, these feelings will usually fade.

However, for people suffering from PTSD, these feelings intensify over time and start to affect the way they live their life. Some of the symptoms of PTSD are:

  • Intense feelings of fear, hopelessness, anger, sadness or shame
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks and reliving the traumatic event
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Avoiding people, places or situations
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety

PTSD can take a heavy toll on relationships, leaving family and friends feeling overwhelmed, disconnected and unsure of how they can help their loved one through this difficult time. If you know someone close to you who is suffering from PTSD, some of the ways you can support them are:

Educate Yourself About PTSD

The more you know about the symptoms and effects of PTSD and the different treatment options available, the more you will understand what your loved one is going through and therefore be better equipped to help them.

Be A Good Listener

One of the best ways to help a person with PTSD is to be there to listen to them without judgement. It’s common for people suffering with PTSD to withdraw and close up about their experiences, so don’t put pressure on them to talk about it.

However, when they are ready to confide in you, you may find that they talk about the traumatic event over and over. This is normal and all part of the healing process, so it’s important to just listen without giving any advice or telling them to get over it and move on.

Anticipate And Manage Triggers

A trigger is a person, place, situation or thing that reminds your loved one of the traumatic event and sets off a reaction such as a flashback or an intense emotional outburst. Some triggers may be obvious, while others may take more time to identify and understand. Common triggers can include certain smells and sounds, significant dates such as anniversaries, particular people and locations or even loud arguments.

Once you become aware of your loved one\’s specific triggers, you can help them to try to avoid them altogether and also come up with a plan for how to best respond to the effects of a trigger when they arise.

Stay Calm During Outbursts

People suffering from PTSD have difficulty managing their emotions and impulses which can manifest as extreme mood swings, irritability or explosions of anger. They live in a constant state of physical and emotional stress, making it more likely that they will overreact to normal day-to-day pressures.

Watch for signs of an emotional outburst, such as clenched fists and agitation and take steps to diffuse the situation. Do your best to stay calm and not react to their intense emotions and give the person plenty of space. Offer to help in any way you can, but most importantly keep yourself safe by removing yourself from the situation if you feel you are in danger and call for help.

Support Them In Their Treatment

Often, sufferers of PTSD don’t realise that they need professional treatment in order to deal with the effects of a traumatic event. However, professional help is an important part of the recovery process for people living with PTSD. Gently encourage them to seek professional help by emphasising the benefits of therapy and be there to support them throughout their treatment.