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How to support someone with PTSD – part three

220px-PTSD_stress_brain

Regions of the brain associated with stress and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Source: National Institue of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-research-fact-sheet/index.shtml

I have recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. It is an aptly named “disease” – though it is not a mental illness. It is a normal reaction to a traumatic life event.

It is also quite common in our society and something everyone should know at least a little bit about. If PTSD does not currently affect you, it may one day. But I can assure you there is someone in your life affected by it – even though you may not realize it. I suggest this article from Mayo Clinic to learn more about the condition itself.

I am quite blessed to have many supportive and caring people in my life who have asked me how they can help. Along the way, I have come up with a number of suggestions I would like to share:

3.    Be an “active” participant in their recovery.

Whether or not they choose to seek professional help, your support can help greatly in “recovery”. The level of support you provide also greatly depends on your own abilities (see item five). ALWAYS take care of yourself first! If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you help take care of someone else.

Providing support to a person with PTSD can be as simple as asking them about how they are doing and really listening to the answer – a simple and basic task in any relationship. If they do go to therapy, ask them how their sessions are going. They may not want to talk about it right away, but just by asking you let them know you are interested in their progress and helps encourage them to continue with the sessions.

When it comes to what to ask about, I can only think of one question NOT to ask – and that is “Why?” It is a very understandable question, but it is also quite rude and insensitive. It is obviously rude to ask a cancer patient “why” they have cancer. There are lung cancer patience who have never smoked. There are skin cancer patients who have never been in a tanning salon. And there are people with PTSD who did nothing to “deserve” the trauma they must now work through.

The question of “why” implies that the “patient” did something to deserve what they got. Some people seem to think that soldiers who signed up for a stint with the military deserve to be traumatized. Some people think that women who go out for a night out with friends deserve to be raped. Some people even think that if you were a troubled child, you deserved to have abusive parents.

When I have the misfortune of encountering something that harbors these thoughts (because surely an organism with even an ounce of humanity could never think such things) I just shake my head and walk away. I suggest you do the same.

4.    NEVER make light of therapy or the work they are doing toward recovery.

In some relationships, everything is subject to being joked about. However, NEVER make light about a person’s therapy or any sort of work they may be doing to work toward recovery.

With PTSD, there are already a lot of negative thoughts in one’s head about it – like it’s “silly” and “dumb” and it (therapy, group work, writing, ect.) won’t really do any good. Jokes (however well-intended) only validate those negative thoughts in someone’s head. In order to see anything through, one must BELIEVE it is worthwhile – you can help foster that belief by taking it seriously.

5.    Make sure you have the support you need!

As mentioned in item three, you can’t help anyone if you are barely holding things together yourself. If you know someone who suffers from PTSD, whether brought on from abuse, combat, premature death, or another traumatic life incident, you may have some very strong thoughts and feelings about the incident your loved one has experienced.

If this is the case, take time to process your own experience – whether that is writing down thoughts and feelings, talking to a trusted friend, or seeking professional help for yourself. Letting your friend with PTSD know about how you think and feel about their experience can sometimes even be helpful to them – it helps a person to know they are not alone in the fight.

Read Part One

Read Part Two

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2 Comments

  1. How to support someone with PTSD – part one « Just One Take
  2. How to support someone with PTSD – part two « Just One Take

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