Learn about PTSD
PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after a trauma, or life-threatening event. A traumatic event could be something that happened to your loved one, or something they saw happen to someone else.
Types of traumatic events that can cause PTSD include:
■ Sexual or physical assault
■ Child sexual or physical abuse
■ Learning about the violent or accidental death or injury of a loved one
■ Serious accidents, like a car wreck
■ Natural disasters, like fire, food or earthquake
■ Terrorist attacks
If you’re concerned about a loved one who has experienced trauma, it’s important to learn about PTSD. Knowing how PTSD can affect people will help you understand what they are going through — and how you can support them.
There are 4 types of PTSD symptoms, but they may not be exactly the same for everyone. Each person experiences symptoms in their own way. Symptoms usually start soon after the event, but for some people they may come and go, or start much later.
1. Reliving the event. You may notice that they have nightmares, get upset by things that remind them of the event or often seem distracted or absent. This can happen because people with PTSD often have memories of the trauma even when they don’t want to. They may have flashbacks — memories that are so real and scary that it feels like the trauma is happening all over again.
2. Avoiding things that remind them of the event. You may notice that they go out of their way to avoid these reminders or triggers — for example, someone who was in a car accident may avoid driving. They may also try to stay busy all the time so they don’t have to think about the event.
3. Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before. You may notice that they seem sad, scared, or angry and have trouble relating to family and friends. They may also feel numb or lose interest in things they used to enjoy.
4. Feeling on edge. You may notice that they startles easily, have trouble sleeping or seem angry or irritable. They may be overprotective of their family, or always “on guard” — like they are worried that something bad will happen.
It’s normal to feel like you don’t know how to support others with PTSD. You may feel helpless when they’re upset or in crisis. But support from family and friends is important for people with PTSD — and there’s a lot you can do to help them.
Plan enjoyable activities with friends and family. Encourage them to get out and do things but go at their pace. For example, if they find it hard to leave the house, a small get-together at a neighbour’s house may be less stressful than going to a crowded restaurant.
Offer to go to the doctor with them. This is especially helpful if they are having a hard time focusing and remembering details. You can take notes on what the doctor says and keep track of recommended medicines and treatments.
Make a crisis plan — together. You can’t always prevent a crisis, but you can learn to recognize triggers and take steps to help cope. Talk with them ahead of time about what to do during a nightmare, flashback or panic attack. They may be able to share things that have helped them in the past.
Check in with them often. This can help figure out which support strategies are working, so you can focus on what’s most helpful to them. You can also talk about different strategies to try if something isn’t working well.
Talking to children about PTSD
Help your children to understand what’s going on, otherwise they may be scared or confused.
Share age-appropriate information. Tell them what PTSD is and the challenges it’s causing but avoid any details that might be too graphic or scary. Older children may also want to know what they can do to support a sibling.
Tell them it’s not their fault. Make sure they know that they didn’t cause the PTSD — and it’s not their job to fix it.
Encourage them to share their feelings. Check that they understand what you’ve told them and ask if they have any questions. Make sure they know they can talk with you about their own worries and fears.
Express hope for the future. It’s important for them to know that there are treatments for PTSD that work — and that you believe things will get better. Let them know that your family will work together to support one another.
Talking to friends about PTSD
Your friends and neighbours may also notice changes. They may have questions about what’s going on. And, like you, they’ll want to know how they can help.
Before you talk with friends ask how they want you to handle those questions. For example, they may not want you to share any details about their trauma. They may also have ideas for how friends can support them.
Share what you’ve learned. Your friends may also be struggling to connect. You can help by sharing tips about how to communicate — and how to be sensitive and patient as they work through their symptoms.
Here are some examples of how friends can support:
■ Learning about PTSD and its symptoms
■ Do things together
■ Helping with everyday tasks, like babysitting or grocery shopping
When someone is dealing with PTSD, it may be hard to communicate with them, but it’s important to keep try. Sharing feelings and everyday challenges with each other can strengthen your relationship — and help you learn how to better support them.
Here are some tips that can help:
Let them share at their own pace. It can be hard for people with PTSD to talk about their trauma, even with people they love. Let them know that you understand if they don’t want to share everything — and that you’ll be there to listen when they’re ready.
Be a good listener. They may talk about things that are hard for you to hear — especially if they do open up about their trauma. It can be tempting to offer advice or say it’s going to be okay, but it’s important to listen without judging, interrupting, or trying to fix things.
Show that you’re listening, make eye contact and repeat back what they’ve told you to make sure you understand.
You can also ask open ended questions, like “how do you feel?” or “how can I help?” Share your feelings, too. They may not know you’re sad, frustrated or worried if you don’t tell them. Choose a time that feels comfortable and try not to blame them or their PTSD for your feelings.
Take Care of Yourself
Supporting someone with PTSD can take a lot of time and energy — and it can be stressful. It’s common to feel that taking care of yourself is selfish, or that you don’t have time. But taking care of yourself is actually an important part of caring for others. If your needs are met, you’ll be a stronger source of support for them.
Take care of your own health. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and eating well will help you manage stress and stay healthy.
Keep doing the things you like to do. It’s important to recharge — and to have things to look forward to, like spending time with friends.
Set boundaries for yourself. Be realistic about how much you can do. Talk about how you’ll let them know if you need a break and make a plan for how they can get support during those times — like calling a friend.
Talk about what you’re going through. Your close family and friends can be a good place to start. You may also want to check out support groups, where you can talk with people who are having similar experiences.
For further advise contact EAP Assist.