• It’s important we understand and raise awareness for harmful mental illnesses like PTSD.
  • Though the disorder can vary from person-to-person, common symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and hypervigilance.
  • Letting our loved ones with PTSD know we are there for them can go a long way in their recovery journey.
  • We should also make our loved ones with PTSD feel comfortable opening up about the illness and practice patience and understanding.

If you haven’t suffered with PTSD yourself, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to live with its crippling effects. That being said, it’s important to educate yourself on PTSD and other mental illnesses, as people all around you—even your friends and family—might be living with PTSD (or any given disorder) and could really use your love and support. So, let’s start from the beginning: what is PTSD, and how does it affect those who suffer with it?

Understanding the Harmful Aftermath of Trauma

Clinical Counselor Janice Hartley explains what it’s like to deal with the aftermath of significant trauma and come face-to-face with PTSD: “Symptoms can greatly vary, but typically the sufferer experiences recurrent, distressing memories, dreams or flashbacks concerning the traumatic event that they experienced,” Hartley explains. Additionally, she says individuals with PTSD may…

  • Experience intense anxiety when reminded of the traumatic event.
  • Try to avoid anything that reminds them of the event.
  • Not be able to remember certain details of their traumatic experience.
  • Feel detached from others.
  • Be irritable and have angry outbursts.
  • Become nervous and untrusting of others.
  • Have frightening symptoms of derealization and depersonalization.

“As you can see, PTSD can be extremely distressing depending on the severity of one’s symptoms,” she says. “The PTSD sufferer may withdraw from others and engage in self-destructive behaviors. Relationships can be greatly affected and the PTSD sufferer may have trouble functioning in the workplace due to their heightened anxiety, negative emotions, poor concentration, and sleep concerns.”

3 Ways to Support a Loved One With PTSD

In consideration of Hartley’s last comment, it’s extremely important that you do what you can to show your loved ones who suffer with PTSD that you care for them and that you are there to help them anyway you can. Maryellen Newman—licensed mental health counselor, board-certified behavior analyst, and licensed behavior analyst—is here to offer you some pointers in doing so:

1) Don’t turn PTSD into a taboo topic. First, it’s crucial you make them feel comfortable when it comes to opening up about their PTSD: Newman explains you shouldn’t force them to talk about it if they don’t want to, but they should know you’re available and open to the conversation: “Don’t make what they are going through a taboo topic. Doing this can feel isolating to the person and create even more distance. Gently let them know that you are there unconditionally and talking about it can be on their terms. Sometimes actions are more powerful than words, so you can try simply sitting together with the comforting feeling of safety. On the other side of that, don’t try to force them to open up if they are not ready. They will do so when comfortable and aware you are to.”

2) Educate yourself on symptoms and effects of PTSD. Next, as we mentioned earlier you should educate yourself on the harmful symptoms and effects of PTSD. You already got a head start on this since you read the section above, but it can’t hurt to do a little more research—specifically into a little something called hypervigilance. “Be aware of what is called hypervigilance: an exaggerated state of always being aware of his/her surroundings, on guard ready for something problematic or painful to occur, jumpy, or nervous,” Newman explains. “Try not to sneak up on them or touch them without them being aware. For individuals with PTSD, being hypervigilant may change their behavior or routine to avoid certain scenarios. Take notice of what they may be avoiding and try to accommodate this when possible. There are techniques that can aid with hypervigilance and can be encouraged, such as mindfulness, yoga, etc.”

3) Practice patience and understanding. And lastly, “be patient and validate what your loved one is going through,” Newman says. Additionally, think before you speak, as certain assertions and remarks can do some serious damage, even if you don’t intend them to be harmful. “Statements such as ‘Why aren’t you over this yet?’ or, ‘It’s been *x amount of time* aren’t you moving on?’ can be harmful and invalidating, even if not meant to be. Acknowledge their feelings and pain, and don’t discount them. Part of the healing process is time, and there is no limit on this.”