How to Support Someone With PTSD
Many people experience significant traumas in their lives, though the cause of their trauma can vary quite widely. Some people are able to endure the trauma without any long-lasting consequences, while others may experience varying levels of physical or mental distress. Regardless of how a trauma affects someone, having a support system is key to helping them cope with its effects.
People who live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) should undergo treatment from a trained mental health professional. If someone you know experiences PTSD, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the illness and its effects on their physical and mental health as well as treatment options.
Whether someone you care for has undergone a trauma and recently been diagnosed with PTSD or you’ve been supporting someone with PTSD for a while, there are key considerations to remember in ensuring they have the care and support they need. It could mean the difference between them overcoming their illness or seeing it worsen.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, frequently referred to as PTSD, is a mental health condition caused by very stressful, frightening, distressing, or traumatising events, usually when someone’s life or safety was in danger or under threat. PTSD can also follow repeated and extreme exposure to traumatic events or exposure to the aftermath of those events. This could be a severe car accident, a severe natural disaster, physical or sexual assault or abuse, war, or even torture.
As a result, the person feels intense fear, helplessness, or horror which comes out in flashbacks, nightmares, or emotions. They may have trouble sleeping or concentrating and difficulty controlling their emotions. In addition to this, they may experience feelings of guilt, irritability, hopelessness, and isolation and can even manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, and chest pain. The symptoms associated with PTSD are often severe and can have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.
PTSD can develop at any time after someone experiences a disturbing event. It might come on immediately or weeks, months, or even years after and is estimated to affect 1 in 3 people who have experienced a traumatic event.
How do you help someone who is traumatised?
If someone you love is struggling with the effects of trauma, there are things you can do to help.
Listen – Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say or do if someone wants to talk about trauma. The best thing you can do in this scenario is to listen to them. Let them talk at their own pace, and respect what they are choosing to share with you. Allow them to be upset and don’t judge them for any of their reactions to the event. Don’t give advice unless they ask for it. They may just need to be heard.
Validate – Don’t dismiss their experience, and don’t tell them not to worry or that it could be worse. Whatever they are feeling is real no matter what they experienced and the road to recovery includes acceptance. Let them be vulnerable and be there to support them through it.
Learn their triggers – It might be helpful to know if they have any triggers for flashbacks or uncomfortable feelings such as loud noises or situations. By understanding their triggers, you can help avoid them and be more prepared if these situations occur.
Privacy and support – Respect their privacy and their choices unless they give you permission to share their experiences. If they want to seek help, you can help them find support and treatment for their PTSD.
What are the 5 stages of PTSD?
PTSD is traditionally divided into 5 stages to help us identify the different periods associated with the condition. While not everyone will experience all of the stages or experience them in a specific order, they are useful in understanding what someone is going through. They include:
Impact or emergency stage – Directly following the event, when the person is struggling to deal with what happened.
Denial or numbing stage – If someone is living with PTSD, it is not uncommon for them to protect themselves or experience a numbness or denial that the event occurred. Although this is a technique the mind uses to prevent further trauma, they need to work through it to move forward.
Rescue stage – This is the time that the person affected starts to come to terms with what happened. They may wish to visit the site of the trauma. Although this stage involves acknowledgement, they still need to deal with the initial shock and distress. It is usually the most destructive stage of PTSD but is required to confront the trauma and learn to take control back.
Short term recovery or intermediate stage – The time when someone enters into recovery and adjusts back into
normal life after working through the trauma’s effects in order to repair their basic safety and survival instincts. This stage can include a transition to a new level of acceptance and understanding of the trauma they faced and how it affects their lives. This is also where healing starts to take place and steps towards recovery can be implemented.
Long-term reconstruction or recovery stage – This is when a person living with PTSD works through and implements a recovery program that works for them. This is also known as the integration stage. Coping mechanisms are learnt to address symptoms which are integrated into daily life. This stage can be ongoing for many years, and there can be regression when additional stress, trauma, or triggers are encountered.
What should you not say to someone with PTSD?
There are things you might want to say to people that you think will help, but some comments can prove triggering for those living with PTSD.
Never tell someone that they are overreacting or to get over it. This can be demoralising and trivialises the severity of their condition. Additionally, by trying to downplay the situation by comparing it to others, especially if your point is that the other person overcame their experience, this may seem helpful but it is not something that people living with PTSD want to hear. You may think you are helping but in reality you are distancing yourself from them.
Is PTSD a disability?
If you have a mental health condition that has a long-term effect on your day-to-day life, then this is considered a disability. NDIS covers PTSD when it is classified as a psychosocial disability. If your loved one lives with a significant disability that is likely to be permanent, they may qualify for NDIS support. Feel free to reach out to our team at Maple Community Services for information on PTSD support services.
Does PTSD ever go away?
PTSD can be managed with medication and therapy. As the trauma that was experienced by the individual will never truly go away, it can be triggered by certain noises, stresses, or other events. Thankfully, with the correct treatment, it can remain dormant or asymptomatic for long periods.
What To Do If Someone Is Having a Flashback
A flashback is when someone relives aspects of a traumatic event. They can be vivid in nature and traumatic for those experiencing them. If you recognise that someone is having a flashback:
- Try to stay calm.
- Gently tell them that they are having a flashback.
- Avoid making any sudden movements.
- Encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Encourage them to describe their surroundings.
The good news is there are treatments available for those living with PTSD and, with therapy; medication; and support, many individuals live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. You can reach out to Maple Community Services for further help and support.