When Someone You Love Has PTSD: How to Support Them
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by stressful and distressing events. It is an anxiety disorder, that results in sufferers reliving the traumatic event that they have experienced either in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. PTSD is said to affect one in three people who have experienced a traumatic event, making it a common problem facing Americans.
When your loved ones are experiencing PTSD, it can be a lot of strain on the wider family and friends network. Supporting them can help to get them through. Here at Firefighter.com, we explore the symptoms of PTSD and what you can do to support loved ones with PTSD.
What Are The Signs of PTSD?
PTSD can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Your loved one may experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or they may experience variations of them. If you have any concerns that you or your loved one are experiencing PTSD, you should seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
Reliving the traumatic event is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. Re-experiencing can come in many forms such as nightmares, flashbacks, and repetitive imagery. Flashbacks can happen at any time, sometimes with seemingly innocuous things triggering the episodes. This could be specific noises, feelings, words, or even sights.
Numbing and emotional avoidance
Another common symptom of post-traumatic stress is numbing, when the individual attempts to prevent themselves from being reminded of the event. They may avoid certain people or environments as this could trigger a flashback or nightmare for them. Sometimes, when emotionally numbing, they may become isolated and withdrawn as they don’t want to feel anything at all. On the other hand, they may also distract themselves with work or hobbies in order to keep their mind occupied with other things.
Hyperarousal or hypersensitivity
It can be challenging for those with PTSD to relax, as they constantly find themselves in an anxious state as they look out for potential threats. These threats might come in the form of surprises or simply from being startled. Known as hyperarousal or hypersensitivity, people living with PTSD are likely to be irritable, lack concentration, or have sleeping problems as they struggle to relax and get out of alert mode.
Mental health problems (depression, anxiety, phobias)
PTSD often goes hand in hand with other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and phobias. The constant anxious state of hyperarousal links to anxiety while numbing and emotion avoidance tie into depression. As post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to other mental health problems, it is important to seek professional help.
Self-harm or self-destructive behavior
An extreme but unfortunately common response to PTSD is self-destructive behavior or self-harming behavior. This could come in the form of simply making reckless decisions, but it may also link to alcohol and drug misuse or physically harming the body.
Physical manifestations (dizziness, headaches, chest and stomach pains)
Many people with PTSD may also experience physical manifestations of their symptoms, which can include things like dizziness, headaches, chest pains, and stomach aches. They may be constant sources of pain or they may flair up when an episode is triggered.
Who Is More Likely To Get PTSD?
PTSD can develop at any age and in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. While many tend to think of war veterans as most likely to be diagnosed with PTSD, it could happen to anyone. The National Center for PTSD reports that 6% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
Not only are war veterans particularly at risk, but so are children, those who have been through abuse, or those who have experienced an accident or disaster. This means that first responders and emergency service workers are also likely to experience PTSD. A study on work-related PTSD estimated that around 400,000 first responders in America have some of the signs of PTSD. This study also gave approximations for the types of emergency service workers with PTSD:
- 15% of emergency personnel (paramedics)
- 13% of rescue teams
- 7% of firefighters
- 5% of police officers
Supporting Someone With PTSD
Watching someone you love struggle with PTSD is hard, but there are a number of things that you can do to support them and encourage them to seek treatment. You’ll need to understand PTSD and recognize the signs in order to give your loved ones the support that they need at home.
When a loved one is struggling, we want to help and talk through what they are experiencing. However, for those with PTSD, talking about it can relive painful memories and worsen their symptoms. As difficult as it can be, you have to be patient and let your loved ones talk to you only when they are ready.
Listen without judgment
When your loved one does start to open up about what they are experiencing and feeling, it is important to listen without judgment. Many don’t want to talk about what is happening as they worry they will be judged. When they do let you in, you should just listen to what they have to say. It can be difficult to listen to upsetting stories, but doing so without judging them will show that they are in a safe place.
Learn their triggers
PTSD affects people in different ways, and so what triggers them can vary from person to person. As everyone’s triggers are unique and specific to their experiences, learning their triggers can help you avoid them wherever possible. Sounds, smells, people, locations, anything could be a trigger, so pay attention and see what you can do to help them. One significant trigger to remember is the date. Anniversaries can be particularly difficult to deal with, so supporting your loved ones in these situations is vital.
What to do when they are re-experiencing
If your loved one is having a flashback or a nightmare, you should try to ground them in whatever way you can. It is best to avoid sudden movements and to calmly remind them of their surrounding. Tell them that they are having a flashback and that, although it feels real, they are safe at home. Taking slow, deep breaths can prevent them from panicking. Try not to touch them without their permission as this could cause their panic to escalate.
Getting Help And Useful Resources
Our understanding of PTSD has improved, and there are more options available to those seeking treatment and help. You can’t force your loved ones to get treatment, but you can encourage them and support them on their journey. You can take the time to research the PTSD treatment options with them in order to find the best solution for their needs.
At Firefighter.com, we know how difficult it can be to overcome PTSD. Your network of friends and family will be one of the best supports you have, and there are small things that you can do to ground your loved ones and remind them that they are important to you. For some, firefighter jewelry gives them something familiar that they can touch during flashbacks, which can help to ground them in the present and bring them out of an episode.
The 21st anniversary of 9/11 is just around the corner, so if your loved ones are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it could be a sign that they are struggling with PTSD. Listen to their needs, be patient, and support them in whatever ways they need. Together, we are strong.
As always, Stay safe
Jason S. & Kelly D.