PTSD affects millions around the world.  If you have a loved one who suffers from PTSD, they might be confused, scared, or hurt by their loved one’s actions. How can we help our loved ones with PTSD?

First, we need to know what PTSD is:

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (often shortened to PTSD) is classified as a mental disorder that occurs when someone experiences a life-threatening or traumatic situation. Trauma can come from war, famine, sexual assault, the death of a loved one, car accidents, and any other major life-changing event, so anyone can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at any age. PTSD develops over time after a traumatic incident and can last for the rest of someone’s life—it is not something that can be “gotten over” easily.

When someone has PTSD, they may experience symptoms of anxiety and depression or may act differently than they did before the traumatic incident. This could mean they isolate themselves or become emotionally volatile and will lash out at loved ones. Sometimes, people with PTSD experience sudden, distressing thoughts related to their trauma, called intrusive thoughts, or dreams relating to the trauma as well. Experiences like vivid flashbacks of the incident, memory loss, and dissociation are also common with someone who has PTSD. These symptoms are typically triggered by something that reminds them of the traumatic event, like loud noises, breaking glass, hospital monitors, and even some smells and tastes.

Help Them Stay in The Present

The best way to help a loved one with PTSD is to help them stay in the present. Someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is mentally “stuck” at the time their trauma takes place, and when flashbacks occur, they may experience sensations that aren’t there. With dissociation, a loved one may appear to “check out” of reality and stop speaking, be unresponsive or feel as if they are floating and the world around them isn’t real. Typically, dissociation and flashbacks come hand-in-hand.

To help someone with PTSD get their mind back in the present, help them identify things around them. In a dream or a flashback, the person affected will never experience all five senses at a time. The best way to help them out is by going through a sensory check. Counting down from five, have your loved one identify five things they see, four things they hear, three things they feel, two things they smell, and one thing they taste. This will help them differentiate what is real and what is an illusion, and will slowly bring them back into reality without causing extra distress.

Avoiding Triggers

Another way to help your loved one with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder is by helping them avoid things that can trigger flashbacks and dissociative spells. While it is not good to completely isolate yourself from triggering events, working through stress with a therapist’s help and guidance is the best way someone with PTSD can come to terms with their trauma. Until then, you can help them through triggers with patience and problem-solving.

For example, if a veteran has PTSD and gets triggered by loud noises—especially fireworks—consider keeping them away from fireworks during the summer, or help them listen to their favorite music or wear earplugs to block out the noise. For someone traumatized by a car accident, consider driving them or driving with them to make them feel safe.

Listen to Them

By far the most important way you can help anyone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is to listen to their needs. If your loved one is experiencing the effects of PTSD, chances are they are just as scared as you may be. Talking to them and asking how you can help, what to avoid, and sharing your feelings with each other is the best way to find out how you can help bring them out of a dissociative spell or a flashback. If they have a favorite stuffed animal that helps, you’ll know to get it!

 By talking about triggers, you can also make sure to avoid saying or doing things that may set them off while they are around. Of course, if this conversation is difficult to have alone, speak to a therapist! Therapists that specialize in Post-Trauma and mood disorders can help both parties get their points across effectively.

Remember that no matter what, trauma does not make someone who they are. While a traumatic event may change how your loved one acts, be sure to accept them and keep an open mind.

 

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