How to support a friend or family member who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Published: August 6, 2019

Author: Rachael Bain-Chase; Outreach and Education Director

Most of us have heard of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), but many of us don’t really understand what it means and how it affects people. It wasn’t until recently that the medical and counseling communities even recognized it outside of veteran and post-combat military populations. I have personally suffered from PTSD and have also helped many individuals with PTSD as a therapist, so I feel I have a unique perspective to share with you.

You don’t have to have a formal PTSD diagnosis by a medical professional to have symptoms of PTSD. Any traumatic event where you felt intense fear, horror or helplessness can cause PTSD (e.g., sexual assault, physical abuse, car accident, or natural disaster).

You may have heard someone say about a family member: “They never were the same after the accident/house fire/sexual assault/-insert trauma here-.” This may literally be true because trauma affects the mind and body. Unless healing happens, a person’s sense of self, thinking and body can be altered and negatively affected from the experience. It can feel like the traumatic event is happening in the present instead of the past.

Did you know that the following can be symptoms of PTSD?

1. Being hyperalert or vigilant- Startling easily at loud noises- Having trouble sleeping

2. Having nightmares or flashbacks, not just visual but emotional or sensory where you feel like you are back in the traumatic event

3. Being irritated, angry, or easily frustrated for no apparent reason

4. Feeling numb, spacey and ‘out of it’ or using escapes such as drugs, alcohol, internet or other addictions

If you have a friend or family member suffering from PTSD symptoms they may report all or some of the above and symptoms and may not seem like themselves. They may seem withdrawn, tired, jumpy and out of sorts. To be supportive and help them overcome this hard time, there are a few things you can do:

1. Listen to your friend or family member if they need to talk. Let them know you are there for support and that you want them to feel better. Offer a shoulder to cry on and safe hugs, if they feel comfortable with that.

2. Encourage them to seek help from a therapist and/or a medical professional. There are very effective therapies that help with PTSD symptoms and sometimes medications can greatly reduce the anxiety and allow healing. Families First has therapists trained in EMDR which is highly effective for PTSD. Healing is available and being symptom-free is absolutely possible!

3. Encourage your friend or family member to take care of themselves by maintaining hygiene, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, being out in nature and exercising. You may have to help them with these things by bringing healthy food over, inviting them for a walk, and asking how they are sleeping.

I know it is possible to heal from PTSD and be symptom-free because it happened to me and I’ve witnessed countless clients overcome it. Be a supportive encouraging friend or family member and help them get to a life that is peaceful, calm and where the traumatic even stays in the past, where it belongs!