It can be difficult to share or talk about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whether you are diagnosed with PTSD or seek to support a friend or loved one working through recovery, social support may help someone to overcome the effects of a traumatic event and speed up recovery. However, it can be stressful for anyone with PTSD to share their diagnosis, so we’ve put together some suggestions for how to open up healthy conversations about the mental health disorder and how to talk about it.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that can develop after an individual experiences or witnesses an event that is shocking, frightening, dangerous, or life-threatening. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of adults in the United States every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime, with women being twice as likely as men to have PTSD.
The PTSD Foundation of America says that about 30 percent of service members who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD, and only about 50 percent of PTSD sufferers in the U.S. seek treatment. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur for anyone, of any nationality, ethnicity, or culture, and at any age. Many people across the globe suffer with PTSD in silence, which explains why the condition is sometimes called the silent disorder.
“PTSD is not always silent,” says Anthony Daemke, Clinician at Diversus Health. “Sometimes it’s loud and destructive. Education and treatment of PTSD is incredibly important and could be easily confused with a somewhat similar diagnosis, acute stress disorder. Please consult a licensed mental health provider to assist with education, distinction, exploration, and treatment of any symptoms of trauma you may be experiencing or have experienced in the past.”
Breaking the Stigma Around PTSD
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.” Being able to talk about PTSD, its effects, and the feelings or triggers that come along with traumatic exposure is important in order to overcome symptoms of the disorder on the journey to recovery.
At Diversus Health, we help active and inactive military members and veterans, as well as their families, in all aspects related to the deployment cycle. We offer resources to help individuals understand how to cope with their feelings, reactions, and stressors. Whether or not you or your loved ones are military members, Diversus Health is here to provide mental health and well-being for all. Let us help you work towards recovering from symptoms of PTSD today.
Talking About PTSD
“Talking about a trauma experience is often challenging due to its intensely interpersonal connection,” says Daemke. “Often, trauma is misunderstood, often leading to feelings of humiliation, poor self-esteem, insecurities, isolation, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, maintaining a healthy diet and weight, depression, fatigue, fear, chronic worry, anxious, hyper-vigilance, increased anger and tension, and decreased motivation to accomplish daily tasks such as friends, career, family, and home.”
It may be challenging to seek help for PTSD but there are many benefits to talking with a professional and with people you trust in your personal life. Talk therapy teaches helpful ways to react to the triggering events of PTSD symptoms. Different types of therapy may discuss trauma and its effects, use relaxation and anger-management skills, offer tips for better sleep, diet, and exercise habits, help people identify and deal with guilt, shame, and other negative feelings about the traumatic event, and focus on changing how people react to their PTSD symptoms. Be patient. It may take some time to feel better, even with treatment.
Below are some of our suggestions for how you can discuss PTSD with those you feel comfortable sharing your experience or diagnosis:
Educate Yourself About PTSD
It is important to understand post-traumatic stress disorder, what it is, the common symptoms associated with it, and any other information that will help you discuss the mental health issue with others. The more information you know about PTSD, the better you will be able to answer your loved one’s questions, clarify misunderstandings about the disorder, and direct people to resources for more information.
Identify Your Support Systems
You do not need to tell everyone about your PTSD. Share the information you feel comfortable disclosing with people that you trust and who can provide you with ongoing support, including individuals who are understanding, trustworthy, nonjudgmental, and encouraging. The more you feel supported by people who genuinely care about you and your recovery, the more effective your healing can be.
“When we discuss traumatic experiences with our friends and family, we often speak from our knowledge-base which can be misunderstood on its own, potentially leading to increased symptom severity,” says Daemke. “However, our friends and family are generally working with what they know to be understood and true, even if deficient, their intent is good.”
Once you identify your supportive individuals, it may be a good idea to set aside time to tell them about your PSTD diagnosis. Allow yourself the time you need to share your experience, nerves and all. Consider that the people you tell may feel emotional about the news. Choose a time and place that is comfortable for you and where you have the other person’s undivided attention.
Choose What to Share
It is your choice to determine what you want to share with those you trust. You are in control. What you choose to share is completely up to you, whether you decide to share specific information or details about your traumatic event. Give others enough information to understand your PTSD diagnosis and what they can do to help.
If someone asks you an uncomfortable question, you can let them know that you are not ready to talk about that yet. Coping with PTSD can make you feel vulnerable. What is important is knowing that the people you trust have your back. Family and friends who are supportive of you will be comfortable with your response and will want to support you regardless of the history behind your symptoms.
Clarify Confusion About PTSD
Be prepared to share the basics of PTSD with your friends and family that you have chosen to trust with your diagnosis. Let them know what symptoms commonly occur in PTSD and why. It is a good idea to have a solid foundation of knowledge on PTSD and the symptoms you are experiencing in order to help those who will be supporting you to have an understanding of what to expect and how they can address your behaviors.
Find Your PTSD Community
Talk to others with PTSD and ask them how they shared their diagnosis with those they love. What worked well for them when they decided to open up about their experience? What would they do differently if they had to do it again? You can gain valuable information from the experiences of others who are recovering from PTSD.
Find your PTSD community by engaging in support groups and online support communities for people living with PTSD. Others who have learned to talk about their PTSD will likely have many ideas to help you share your story with those you trust.
“When presenting any or multiple symptoms of PTSD, make attempts to contact a mental health provider,” says Daemke. “If you’re unsure of how to locate a provider, contact your primary doctor’s office to discuss your symptoms. In the event that you lack a primary care provider or doctor, you can walk into any local hospital to ask for assistance. Many times, the information or reception desk attendants may be able to point you in a healthy direction to obtain mental health services.”
You do not have to disclose your PTSD to anyone until you are ready. You are in control and you decide who, when, and how much you want to share about your trauma. PTSD is not a sign of weakness. Surrounding yourself with people who can understand, care for, and support you can significantly reduce the stigma around PTSD and aid in your recovery.
*If you or someone you love is struggling with PTSD, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.