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How to Support a Loved One with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When a friend or loved one is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) it can be difficult finding ways to help them cope. That’s because PTSD behavior may appear strange, upsetting or erratic at times.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

When a person has severe stress symptoms like anxiety, feeling afraid or on edge, or experiences flashbacks, nightmares or difficulty sleeping during the first month after the traumatic event, it’s called acute stress disorder (ASD). If the symptoms last longer than a month, it evolves into a PTSD diagnosis.

ASD or PTSD can occur after a trauma that’s a result of an accident or violence, such as an assault, verbal, physical, domestic or sexual abuse, military combat or any other type of trauma. People with PTSD find it hard to handle daily routines, go to work or school, make decisions or do important tasks.

A professional assessment is required in order to fully distinguish if your loved one has ASD or PTSD. Encourage them to talk to a doctor or a trained mental health professional.  Here are some tips from Kayleigh Parent, L.C.S.W, Individual and Relational Psychotherapy, at NorthShore on how to support them:

Don’t Force Just Listen: People cope with stress in many different ways. Some like to openly talk about their problems and some people don’t. All you need to do is make sure your loved one knows you’re there and you want to hear how they feel. If the person isn't ready or willing to share, don’t force them. Offer reassurance that you’ll be there when they’re ready.

Plan a Time to Talk: When they are ready to talk, make sure it’s in an area that’s distraction-free and without interruptions. Listen and ask questions if you don’t understand. Try not to make any assumptions or say “I know how you feel.”

Take a Break if it Gets Too Stressful: If the conversation is getting too intense or too hard for your loved one, offer to take a break, stop for the time being and then either follow up with the conversation later or on another day. However, make sure you follow through.

If There’s Talk of Suicide, Act: If you’re sensing your loved one may attempt suicide, respond calmly, but act immediately. Make sure the person is not left alone. You may want to discretely remove pills, firearms or other objects that could be used to cause self-harm. Make sure you seek help from a mental health professional as soon as possible. 

Make Them Feel Secure: Whatever they tell you, make sure you maintain their trust. Be reliable, reassuring, dependable and follow through for when they need you. Try not to make a decision for them; rather support and encourage them.

Don’t Judge: It’s common to feel frustrated or judgmental; try to stay calm and understand that everyone has their own journey, even if it’s not your way. Everyone’s response to trauma is different.