June 03, 2020
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) begins with a trauma: it may be directly experienced, witnessed, or even heard second-hand. Those afflicted may feel anxious, act angry, or become violent depending on the severity of the disorder. They can have trouble sleeping, feel uninterested and detached from daily life, or experience lingering flashbacks, nightmares, or an avoidance of things that remind them of the event. These symptoms can begin any time after experiencing trauma, but if they persist for more than a month, PTSD could potentially be the cause.
During a traumatic incident, your body has a number of natural responses. You feel afraid, and that fear initiates responses to help you defend yourself or avoid danger. Nearly everyone experiences this panic during times of trauma, but most recover with the passage of time.
For people with PTSD, the feelings of being in danger linger. They continue to feel stressed or frightened, even when they are no longer in danger. Doctors can offer treatment and help patients manage PTSD, but it can take more than six months to recover. It can even become a chronic condition. That’s why it’s vital to support those with PTSD as they work to recover.
Managing PTSD symptoms and their impact requires the support of loved ones and friends. If someone you care about has been through a traumatic incident, here’s how you can help:
There are four types of symptoms associated with PTSD:
• Re-experiencing symptoms: PTSD sufferers often have intrusive memories—unwanted, recurring recollections of the event that caused their initial trauma. These memories can include flashbacks, where the person feels as though they are reliving the event, or nightmares of the event. These intrusive memories can be random, or triggered by something that reminds them of the event.
• Avoidance symptoms: Either consciously or subconsciously, those suffering from PTSD may try to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event. They may even avoid people, places, or things that they associate with the event.
• Arousal/reactivity symptoms: Some symptoms may appear more representative of general anxiety: jumpiness, trouble sleeping, or trouble concentrating are all common as part of PTSD. Sufferers may also react to situations negatively by being irritable, aggressive, or through engaging in unusual reckless behavior.
• Cognition and mood symptoms: Trouble with memory and challenges managing emotions are the final category of symptoms. Those with PTSD may have negative thoughts about themselves or their future, and experience a lack of interest in activities. They may appear depressed: emotionally numb and generally detached from relationships and things they usually enjoy.
Those suffering from PTSD may engage in avoidance as a part of their illness, so it’s important to not push. Giving the person an opportunity to talk, but also recognizing when it’s time to take a break, is key to being supportive. If a person afflicted by PTSD seeks medical help, it goes a long way to help with attending medical appointments and encouraging participation. Most of all, it’s vital to be understanding and empathetic to the impact of the trauma.
If a person suffering from PTSD has symptoms that worsen, or if they appear suicidal or in other immediate distress, it is important that their support network immediately engage medical help. Any time a person is in immediate danger, including those who suffer from PTSD, call 911 right away.
A loved one suffering from PTSD can add a lot of stress to the lives of those helping them. If you’re supporting someone with this disorder, it’s important to make your well-being a priority by making time to do things that support your own mental health. Be sure to engage your own support network, including mental health professionals, if you feel burdened or are struggling to support someone with PTSD.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.