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The Best Way to Support Someone with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often occurs when an individual has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Common trauma can include affects from natural disasters, severe accidents, terrorist acts, war/combat, unwanted or nonconsensual sexual conduct or sexual violence, death threats, or serious injuries. Michelle Wright, LPC, MA, and Supervisor of Clinical Programs at Diversus Health, says, “PTSD can develop from prolonged exposure to something that is perceived as harmful. Exposure to an unhealthy environment such as a work situation, an unhealthy marriage, or possibly effects of this pandemic. At first glance, these situations may not be considered an event that would cause PTSD.”

Affecting approximately 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. annually, PTSD can occur in any person, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, culture, or age. It is imperative to seek treatment for PTSD early and before symptoms become more severe over time. For some people, PTSD can last for many years.

Individuals with PTSD experience intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the incident that triggered their trauma, which can last long after the event has ended. Some may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares. It is not uncommon for people with PTSD to feel sad, fearful, angry, detached, or estranged from others. PTSD may cause individuals to avoid situations or people who remind them of the traumatic event, and something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch may trigger strong negative reactions.

How to Help Someone with PTSD

Understand PTSD

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be debilitating. Like depression or other mental and behavioral issues, PTSD is not something an individual can easily snap out of. Symptoms can arise any time after the triggering event.

Common traits of PTSD often include:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom, such as flashbacks, nightmares, or frightening thoughts.
  • At least one avoidance symptom like evading crowds or activities which include many people.
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms, such as having a short fuse or getting easily frustrated.
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms, including negative self-esteem, guilt, aggression, skittishness, explosive outbursts, or blame.

Wright says, “I have seen people be confused by their symptoms because they do not believe the ‘thing’ they went through was severe enough to cause PTSD or their family has that belief. This can become a barrier in people seeking treatment or others being supportive or understanding of what they are going through.”

Learning about PTSD can help you understand and relate to what you or your loved one is going through and what to expect.

Compassion & Acceptance Can Go a Long Way

People suffering with PTSD often feel unlovable and undeserving. At times, PTSD can make the world seem like a dangerous and untrustworthy place. If left untreated, negative thoughts can become generalized so that negativity permeates all aspects of an individual’s life. These negative traits can carry over into an individual’s relationships, creating insecurity, distrust, and causing irrational behaviors and even emotional meltdowns. This can lead couples to feel disconnected, isolated, and caught in the vicious psychological cycle.

“We all experience traumatic events throughout our lives, and even if we do not develop PTSD, I believe the more we can learn about trauma and understand its impact the easier we can heal from it and support others who are struggling,” says Wright. “There is a lot of confusion regarding trauma and PTSD which makes it more important to provide education and ways to seek help.”

Individuals with PTSD often feel a lack of self-control. When talking to your loved one about PTSD, be a good listener. PTSD can be challenging for everyone involved. Talk to a loved one or a professional and acknowledge spoken or unspoken feelings. Be patient with yourself or your loved one who is suffering with PTSD. It is important to show your support in all ways and encourage treatment for recovery. Compassion and acceptance can go a long way in helping to support someone with PTSD.

Treatment Is Available

There are treatment options available amid the feelings of hopelessness. People suffering with PTSD have options to help tackle the mental health issue, including educational resources and seeking the help of a professional mental healthcare provider. A few additional options include seeking therapy as a partner of someone with PTSD, encouraging individuals with PTSD to seek a specialist in PTSD, attending couples therapy, and finding support groups for PTSD. Wright says, “We all experience trauma throughout our lives, but we do not have to let it define us. The most resilient people I know have had a diagnosis of PTSD, but because they sought treatment, they were able to heal and make meaning from their suffering.”

Many people find answers in formal treatment. Psychotherapy and medication can be effective for recovering from trauma or you can learn about cognitive behavioral therapy used to treat PTSD. If you or a loved one is struggling with symptoms of PTSD, our providers at Diversus Health are here to support you. Schedule an appointment to speak with one of our providers and get your journey to recovery started today.

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