Want to learn how to help someone with PTSD?
Many people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with combat soldiers. But there are many sufferers of PTSD that were never in the military. Any traumatic event can result in PTSD.
The ability to deal with trauma and stress varies greatly from person to person. While some people can handle nearly any event without long-term effects, others are considerably more fragile.
PTSD is much more common than most people realize!
What Are The Symptoms of PTSD?
1. Flashbacks or other forms of reliving the event. These can include bad dreams, recurring thoughts, or being triggered by anything that reminds the sufferer of the traumatic event. Physical symptoms are usually experienced, including pain, sweating, and trembling.
It’s possible to even see the traumatic event as if it is happening all over again.
2. Hypervigilance. This is an over-alertness in anticipation of possible danger, for example: scanning crowds for dangerous people, sitting in a certain place at home to avoid being seen through any windows, or an over-reliance on weapons in case the home is suddenly invaded by bad guys.
The person suffering from hypervigilance is consumed with the idea that something bad is going to happen. So, they’re always prepared for the worst, even if the worst has zero possibility of ever occurring. This can look like paranoia to the casual observer.
3. Disturbed sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom in those with PTSD. Nightmares and night sweats can also occur. It’s not easy to sleep when you have post-traumatic stress disorder.
4. Irritability and aggressive behavior. Those with PTSD are often easily agitated and are prone to over-reacting with aggression and anger outbursts.
5. Altered thoughts. This may take the form of believing that the sufferer is bad or that all people are bad. Feelings of guilt, shame, and anger are also common.
These symptoms can range from annoying to life-altering. At the most extreme, sufferers of PTSD are unable to work and pose a serious threat to themselves and others. Suicide is common in the most extreme cases. And those with PTSD are known to hurt others as well.
What are the Causes of PTSD outside of combat?
1.Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is more common in children than any of us would like to acknowledge. This is a powerful trauma that many victims struggle to process effectively.
2. Emotional abuse. The mind can only take so much abuse before it changes in a negative way. Emotional abuse can have effects that last years after the abuse. This can happen in adults, as well as children.
3. Physical abuse or other violence. Regular physical abuse can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also possible for single events to result in PTSD. This can include being the victim of a violent crime such as robbery or rape.
4. Stressful experience. It could be a car accident, almost falling off a cliff, the health issues of a loved one, or seeing someone suffer an injury. Nearly anything that creates a strong stress response can cause PTSD.
5. Mental illness. Many mental illnesses can be stressful. They can also make the sufferer much more susceptible to stressful events.
PTSD is a common challenge, even among those that have never served in the military or with the police. Trauma can be found nearly anywhere in society. Watching a loved one die or experiencing a mugging can result in post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you or someone you love have any of the symptoms listed above, know that help for your symptoms is available. Make an appointment with your physician to get some much-needed relief.
How to Help Someone with PTSD and Risky Behaviors
People with PTSD are more likely to engage in risky or destructive behavior. If PTSD is triggered by trauma, doing something that might lead to additional trauma is difficult to understand.
It’s a common belief that people with PTSD turn to these behaviors as a way to escape the symptoms of PTSD, especially intrusion.
Those who use drugs or alcohol may be using them as a coping mechanism to help them avoid thinking about their original trauma. It may also be a way to ease the guilt or shame associated with the trauma.
Types of risky behavior may include:
- Drunk driving
- Unsafe sex with strangers
- Extreme sports without regard for self-protection
This self-destructive behaviour may diminish symptoms of PTSD momentarily, but ultimately the stress of these choices prolongs PTSD symptoms and make the disorder worse.
Dr. Naomi Sadeh, an Assistant Professor the National Center Boston VA/Boston University, is quoted saying:
For individuals with PTSD, exposure to new stressful events will often prolong their symptoms and can even make them worse. So these findings suggest that treatment providers should ask trauma-exposed veterans about reckless behavior to make sure they are not engaging in harmful behaviors that could make their PTSD symptoms worse.
When it comes to treating PTSD, a therapist will try to address any risky behaviors the patient may be engaging in to help reduce the risk of continued trauma.
How to Deal with PTSD in a Relationship
It’s no secret that PTSD can strain relationships, particularly with a spouse or partner.
There have been many cases of strong marriages unable to withstand the effects of severe PTSD. Though both members may want to maintain the relationship, there are times when people are unable to resolve the inherent issues with PTSD.
In 2019, Meagan Drillinger wrote a piece for Healthline called “6 Things I Learned From Dating Someone With PTSD.”
In the article she explained, “For three years, I was in a relationship with a man who experienced PTSD symptoms daily. My ex, D., was a decorated combat veteran who served in Afghanistan three times. The toll it took on his soul was heartbreaking.”
She went on to say:
Being the partner of someone who has PTSD can be challenging — and frustrating — for many reasons. You want to take away their pain, but you’re also dealing with your own guilt at needing to care for yourself, too. You want to have all the answers, but you often have to come to grips with the reality that this is a condition that can’t be loved out of someone.
How to Help Someone Cope with PTSD
Let’s look at some of the things you can do to support loved ones with PTSD.
That being said, it’s extremely important to know that supporting someone with PTSD does not mean you’re responsible for making them better.
If you have a relationship with someone who has PTSD, you can’t heal them with support. You can make their road easier, but your loved one should seek professional help to give them the tools needed to help with their disorder.
How to be in a Relationship with Someone with PTSD
There are some things that you can do that might help ease their burden and lessen the strain in your relationship:
- Understand that PTSD is real. Perhaps one of the first steps in helping someone with PTSD is acknowledging that it’s a real disorder that produces real symptoms. Though mental disorders are difficult to understand or relate to for those who are not experiencing them, to people with the disorder, it is very real and very debilitating.
- Give them room not to talk. Talking about a traumatic event might help someone who has PTSD, but that doesn’t mean they’re always willing or able to discuss the details of their trauma.
Understand What’s Happening
Their resistance to talking about the traumatic event is not a sign of being unloving or untrusting, it’s more likely because they want to avoid thinking about the event. Bringing it up often is more likely to cause them to pull away and become uncommunicative.
Gently encourage them to talk about it when it seems appropriate but allow them to be the one to discuss it when they’re ready.
3. Work with a routine. A routine is a good way to help establish order in your home for a person suffering from PTSD. Doing this can give a person with PTSD a sense of security and stability and provide comfort in a world that feels chaotic and out of control.
The schedule you use will be different than someone else’s, but it may include exercise, meditation or prayer, planned mealtimes, and daily chores.
4. Learn more about PTSD. Educating yourself on PTSD will be one of your biggest strengths for helping a loved one and yourself cope with the reality. You can do this by reading, watching videos, talking with other people who have PTSD, or discussing it with a therapist.
5. Understand that caregiver burden is real. People taking care of someone struggling mentally or physically can be extremely stressful and draining. Make self-care a priority to combat the effects of caregiver stress.
Help Someone with PTSD by Taking Care of Yourself
In a study published in part by the National Institute of Health, the authors explain,
“Unlike professional caregivers such as physicians and nurses, informal caregivers, typically family members or friends, provide care to individuals with a variety of conditions including advanced age, dementia, and cancer. This experience is commonly perceived as a chronic stressor, and caregivers often experience negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects on their daily lives and health.”
Though the study was specifically talking about people taking care of loved ones with cancer or advanced age, the sentiment is the same for general, non-professional caregivers. Long-term care of a person can lead to secondary issues and can be a burden for them as well.
To help lighten this load, if you’re a caregiver, it’s a good idea to take time for yourself. Every moment of every day can’t be consumed with PTSD. Take time to do things that you love and enjoy.
Another good solution is to find a support group for those who are also caring for loved ones with PTSD. Finding a community of people dealing with the same thing can help you manage your own feelings and concern.
In addition, seek loved ones in your life and allow them to be part of your greater support network.
How to Help Someone Suffering from PTSD?
Seek Professional Treatment!
Seeking outside help is essential for helping you and your loved one cope with PTSD.
Although some may feel there’s a stigma with working with professional help, this viewpoint is becoming less common as people open up about mental health issues across the board. There is no shame in seeking professional help.
If you’re living with or helping care for someone with PTSD, it is often beneficial to seek therapy as well.
How to Help Someone Overcome PTSD?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to PTSD, and it isn’t something that will be resolved in a short amount of time.
Note: If substance abuse is present, look for a therapist trained to help with both PTSD and substance abuse.
What type of treatment you or your loved one will get is up to your therapist, but below are some common forms of treatment for people with PTSD.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a specific type of therapy used to help people change the way they view trauma. It has been effective in helping reduce symptoms of PTSD, and many mental health specialists recommend this course of action for people diagnosed with the disorder.
It’s thought to be one of the most effective treatments available.
CPT is usually performed over 12 sessions (often 12 weeks) in 60-90-minute sessions. Sessions can be either individual or in a group setting.
Trauma changes the way a person feels about themselves and the world, often causing them to develop an overly negative and hopeless view of things. This type of therapy can help them begin to reprocess the way they think about things.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Since avoidance is a symptom of PTSD, therapists will sometimes use a treatment called Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE). This treatment helps people confront the things they’re avoiding in increments.
PE is usually broken down into 15 individual sessions lasting around 60-120 minutes. Sessions usually begin with the therapist asking questions about the original trauma to help develop an understanding of the issue.
This type of therapy will induce more anxiety and stress than CPT typically does, so therapists will try to equip their patients with anxiety-reducing coping skills. For example, a patient might be taught breathing exercises to help manage the stress.
There are several ways that therapists expose a patient with the thing they’re avoiding.
These techniques are:
- Imaginal exposure. In this type of exposure, the patient describes the traumatic event in present tense.
- In vivo exposure. This type of exposure is performed outside of the therapy session. The therapist and patient work together to come up with a list of things the patient has been avoiding. Then they agree on which ones to confront between therapy sessions in a gradual fashion.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EDMR is a different kind of treatment than talking through traumatic events. Instead, the patient is asked to think about the traumatic event while the therapist directs their eye movement.
It’s thought that the eye movement while remembering a traumatic event can help drain the emotion and negative feelings attached to it.
This type of therapy is still relatively new and is considered a non-traditional form of therapy. Though non-traditional, it is still considered to be an effective form of therapy.
Medication for PTSD
For some, medication may be helpful in addition to therapy. According to the National Center for PTSD, antidepressants are sometimes effective for treating symptoms of PTSD. These types of medications include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).
Your doctor or therapist can help you determine if medication might be right for you.
PTSD and the Road to Healing
Treatment for PTSD may not be a cure, as with most mental health disorders total recovery can be difficult or unobtainable. However, many people who receive therapy see a significant and life changing improvement of symptoms. For some, therapy may even lead to a near remission of symptoms.
If you’re suffering from PTSD or you know someone who is, know that there are people who can help.
Hotlines are a good short-term solution that should be followed up with therapy work from a trained professional. Build up a support network of people ready and willing to help when symptoms of PTSD become overwhelming.
Be patient with yourself (or your loved one) because PTSD is a real disorder that requires time and care to improve.
Remember that setbacks don’t erase all progress. For best results, learn all you can about PTSD, seek professional, and build a strong support network.