Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur as a reaction to living through some type of trauma. Physical or sexual assault, witnessing a murder, and being an active participant in war are all common examples of events that can trigger PTSD. What all triggering events have in common is that the person who later develops PTSD felt extremely unsafe.
According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least once traumatic event in their lifetime. The VA also states that between seven and eight percent of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their life. Approximately eight million people deal with PTSD annually, which breaks down to 10 percent of women and four percent of men who experience trauma later go on to develop PTSD.
Common PTSD symptoms
- Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or recurring dreams about the trauma.
- Feelings of intense distress when exposed to people or situations that bring back memories of the trauma.
- Physical reactions such as screaming or shaking in response to memories or triggering events.
- Dissociative feelings that make it seem as though the PTSD sufferer is living through the traumatic event all over again.
- Blaming oneself if another person died or sustained serious injury in their presence.
- Persistent anger and fear.
- Inability to remember details of the traumatic event.
- Unrealistic expectations of self and others.
- Taking little to no pleasure in activities they used to enjoy.
The 10 Tips You Need to Support Your Loved One
PTSD can be especially challenging for families to deal with when soldiers return from a war zone. The transition from military to civilian life can already be difficult, but veterans with PTSD and their families struggle even more. Families naturally want to know what they can do to support loved ones with PTSD. We hope the 10 tips below can help start the healing process.
1. Educate yourself about PTSD.
Before family members can support a loved one with PTSD, they need to have a thorough understanding of it. This is true whether you’re a spouse, parent, child, or sibling of a veteran with PTSD. You will have a much better understanding of what your family member is facing by reading books, doing online research, and talking to other families who have gone through PTSD to get their perspective.
Families with children at home should explain PTSD to them in an age-appropriate way and allow them to ask questions and express frustrations. This resource can be especially useful in providing a broad overview of PTSD and its treatment options.
2. Be available to listen.
Veterans with PTSD sometimes just need someone to listen to them without interruption or judgment, and this is an excellent way for family members to show support. The more you can do that, the more likely it is your loved one will open up and feel comfortable talking about the distressing experience. Since anxiety can be a big part of PTSD for some veterans, your family member might need extra reassurance that you’re there to support them, and they can’t do anything to drive you away.
3. Don’t pressure your loved one to talk.
Everyone is different in their reactions to PTSD. Some want to talk about their experience right away while others may need months or even years before they feel ready to even mention their trauma. This can be frustrating for family members who just want to see their loved one get better.
Unfortunately, pressuring someone to talk before they feel ready will only backfire and cause resentment on both sides. The best thing you can do is to let your family member know that you’re available to support them and will be there to listen when they feel ready to talk.
4. Plan activities to do together.
Engaging in normal activities and routines such as taking the kids to the park or going for a drive on the weekend can help keep your loved one’s mind off the trauma and improve their mood. While you should take the initiative to plan enjoyable events, keep in mind that some activities and environments might be triggering and worsen the PTSD symptoms. For example, spending a quiet day at a friend’s cabin would be a better choice than attending a loud rodeo with thousands of people in attendance.
5. Help your loved one seek support.
People with PTSD sometimes feel ashamed or embarrassed about their struggles, especially if people they were close to did not make it home or suffered debilitating injuries. Let your loved one know that PTSD can happen to anyone and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If they’re open to receiving help, you can offer to take over finding resources and scheduling appointments. You could also consider attending doctor appointments with your family member if they’re receptive to that type of support.
6. Anticipate PTSD triggers.
Seeing someone you love experience symptoms after a triggering event can be distressing. The experience can also catch you off-guard at first because you don’t know the person’s triggers or what type of reaction they will produce. Your family member may not know their own triggers until they happen, making the situation especially challenging. Although PTSD triggers can differ for everyone, here are some common examples.
Common PTSD Triggers
- Hearing media coverage of similar events.
- Passing certain milestones such as anniversary dates of the trauma.
- Experiencing sights, smells, or sounds that remind them of the trauma.
- Being in a hospital, receiving medical treatment, or attending a funeral.
As you learn what seems to bring up your family member’s PTSD symptoms, it will be easier for you to avoid triggering situations.
7. Take care of yourself.
For as much as you need to support the veteran with PTSD and the rest of your family, you also need to take care of yourself. You might consider joining a support group for family members of veterans with PTSD or getting individual counseling. These resources could help your children as well. Be sure to look after your own health and continue to engage in activities you enjoy separate from the rest of the family.
8. Make a crisis plan together.
Panic attacks and night terrors are just some symptoms your loved one may experience due to PTSD. The best way to deal with a crisis involving the veteran is to create a plan outlining exactly what to do. For example, get that person to a safe, quiet spot to relax after experiencing a particularly distressing memory and then check in with a therapist or support group as soon as possible.
9. Try to minimize stress.
Keeping the stress in your home to a minimum can help your family member relax and come to terms with the trauma. Home should be a place of comfort, and daily routines can help facilitate those feelings. Avoid inviting anyone over who might upset the recovering veteran, either intentionally or unintentionally. Not placing heavy demands or responsibilities on the person with PTSD as they ease back into family life can also be helpful.
10. Know when to seek immediate help.
Sadly, PTSD can lead to crisis situations. If your family member is threatening to harm themselves or others, take it seriously and seek help immediately. You can call 911 to transport your loved one to a hospital for evaluation or bring the veteran to the hospital yourself if the person in crisis will cooperate.
You can also receive immediate help for the veteran in your family by calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) and pressing 1 to connect to someone with specific training to help veterans.
Remember Hill and Ponton is Here to Support Veterans and Their Families
Hill and Ponton, a disability services law firm serving the veteran community, understands your family is facing an enormous challenge dealing with PTSD. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 1-888-373-9436 for additional resources on a VA disability claim based on a diagnosis of PTSD.
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