June is PTSD Awareness Month. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, traumatic or dangerous event. It’s common to experience a range of reactions and emotions after trauma, and most people recover from the initial symptoms over time; however, there are those who continue to experience symptoms for an extended period, resulting in a diagnosis of PTSD.
According to the National Center for PTSD, there are currently about 12 million people in the United States living with PTSD. And although this mental health condition is highly treatable, unfortunately many choose to ignore the problem, feeling that they must suffer through it.
PTSD treatments are effective and accessible, especially when combined with the support and care from loved ones. So how can you support someone with PTSD?
1. Learn to understand the signs and symptoms of this mental health condition. To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month: at least one re-experiencing symptom (i.e. flashbacks, bad dreams); at least one avoidance symptom (avoiding thoughts or feelings linked to the experience); at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (easily startled, bouts of anger, etc.); and at least two cognition and mood symptoms (difficulty remembering parts of the experience, negative thoughts, distorted feelings, etc.).
2. Offer emotional support, empathy, understanding, patience, and encouragement. When you try to understand what your loved one is going through, they feel supported and encouraged, and most importantly, not alone. You may encourage them to see a doctor and offer to go to doctor visits together. You can help keep track of medicine and therapy, and you can be there for support.
3. Be an empathic listener. Pay attention to the person’s feelings and the situations that may trigger PTSD symptoms. Using active listening techniques combined with a reflection of feelings and empathy to better understand what your loved one is going through can help them feel understood and supported.
4. Find time to connect. Share and encourage finding positive distractions, such as getting fresh air together, exercising, meeting for coffee or joining a team together.
If your loved one seems to be withdrawing or doesn’t want your help, they could need extra space to process their feelings, but don’t give up hope or help. It is important for anyone with PTSD symptoms to work with a mental health professional who has experience finding the best treatment plan for PTSD. Combined with the support from family and friends, professional help can help those experiencing PTSD recover and live a full, happy life.