When a person is afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), those who care about them often feel helpless. As Yvette Brend coped with her husband Curt Petrovich's PTSD as told in Lost on Arrival, there are some tips she found useful.
Don’t expect fast cures or easy solutions. Remember that not even world-class researchers have all the answers. There are ways to help, but many instinctive efforts — like a hug — can be problematic.
Ask for help
Like other mental disorders, PTSD brings stigma, but getting help from friends, family and medical professionals is crucial. So try to step over the stigma and reach out. Fight for any counselling, evidence-based treatment and supports available.
Learn as much as you can about PTSD. Understanding how it’s affecting the person’s brain doesn’t fix it, but it helps you maintain the empathy, patience and strength to support them.
Build social supports
Look for ways for the PTSD-sufferer to remain as social and connected as possible. There may be days they can’t handle calls or visits. That’s normal. But physical activity and social interaction help. One of the nastiest effects of PTSD on the sufferer and their family is the isolation.
Dealing with anger
Anger is a normal reaction to trauma, and people with PTSD often struggle with it. While safety is always the top-most concern, and any violence unacceptable, it’s important to know that most PTSD-sufferers aren’t violent.
But irritability and erratic moods can still make it difficult to maintain important family connection. Pick a calm time to talk and agree to disengage when discussion gets heated. Encourage coping mechanisms that allow your loved one to separate from emotion and cool down – playing guitar or exercising or playing Monopoly. Anything that requires concentration can help.
Become a super-communicator
True supporters need to become excellent communicators. Learn to put your feelings into words and encourage the other person by listening and not judging. Take turns listening to each other. Do not criticize. Do not argue. Do not interrupt or advise. It’s much harder than it sounds, but it works.
Take care of yourself
Caregivers and supporters can’t help if they are also suffering. Seek support, counselling and do things to keep yourself as healthy as you can. PTSD support can be exhausting and debilitating. It’s normal to feel fatigue, frustration, anger, guilt - but it doesn’t help to become ill or take it out on others. Exercise. Recharge.
Get immediate medical help if the person become suicidal. And get yourself, children or other people to safety if anger becomes threatening. Although most people with PTSD are not violent, those with prior tendencies can become dangerous.
PTSD sufferers often get “flooded” by flashbacks or emotions. Their bodies tip back into a physical state from a time of trauma. They become terrified by the sensations in their own bodies. Sometimes physical touch can be too much, the loud ring of a phone call jarring. So express caring in words, and ask if it’s ok before you touch.
PTSD sufferers and their families often become isolated. Many no longer work or socialize with old friends. They feel like they have vanished. A simple call, email or message to say hello means a lot. Don’t be hurt or critical if they can not reach back. This is much harder than it sounds.
Direct your anger - a coping mechanism
Anger at a PTSD sufferer is useless. They are already trapped and feeling out of control. Separate your frustration with their behaviour from the driving force behind it. Get angry at PTSD and use that anger to help fuel the fight for support.