Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can impact anyone after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. June is PTSD Awareness Month, which is especially important as many people throughout our nation, including children and members of diverse populations, have experienced various traumatic events in recent years.

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, about six percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and 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 in silence. So how can you recognize when someone you know is struggling with PTSD?

1. Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of PTSD.

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. Know who is at risk.

PTSD is not just a condition experienced by veterans, which is a common misconception. PTSD can be experienced by anyone who has either witnessed or experienced a traumatic event of some kind, whether it be a veteran, domestic abuse survivor, natural disaster survivor or someone who has seen or been part of another traumatic event. There are several personal factors, such as previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender that can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. Stress can also make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.

3. Be tuned in with your loved one after traumatic events.

Someone experiencing a PTSD episode may have mild irritations or mood swings, or they may have intense, scary episodes of anger, fear, vivid flashbacks, nausea, dissociation or more. There are things you can do to help your loved one, including frequently checking in, reminding them that PTSD is a natural reaction to trauma, not a weakness.

If you determine that someone you know is experiencing PTSD, helping them through this difficult time is not only possible, but necessary. Feeling alone in their struggle can only make symptoms worse, so receiving support and kindness can go a long way in healing. Here’s what you can do for someone experiencing PTSD:

  • Encourage them to seek professional help. PTSD is a serious mental health condition that often requires professional evaluation and treatment. PTSD treatments are effective and accessible, especially when combined with the support and care from loved ones.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Find time to connect. Share experiences and encourage finding positive distractions, such as getting fresh air together, exercising, meeting for coffee or joining a team together.

It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of PTSD and know how to support someone dealing with PTSD so that they can get the help they need to live a full, happy life.

Recognizing the Symptoms of PTSD in Others