How to suspect PTSD in a person and what to do next?
Do you know what PTSD is? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event (war, combat, a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act or rape).
Be sure, PTSD is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
What signs may indicate a possible PTSD in a friend?
If you know someone who has just experienced a traumatic event, look for the following signs that a person may need help:
- Changes in behaviour – Poor performance at work, lateness, taking sick leave, minor accidents.
- Changes in emotion – Anger, irritability, depression, a lack of interest and a lack of concentration.
- Changes in thoughts – Dwelling on threats or fears, negative views of the future.
- Unexpected physical symptoms – such as breathlessness, jumpiness or stomach aches.
If you think someone might be showing signs of PTSD, you could encourage them to speak to your doctor. If you don’t feel close enough to them to do this, you might want to speak to someone they are close to, who could do this instead.
How to help people who have experienced a traumatic event?
The following things can help to support someone who has been through something traumatic:
- Talk – Take time to allow them to talk with you about their experiences.
- Listen – Let them talk, and try not to interrupt the flow or share your own experiences.
- Ask general questions – If you do ask questions, try to make them general and non-judgemental. For example, you might want to ask ‘have you spoken to anyone else about this?’ or ‘can I help you to find some extra support?’.
You should try to avoid:
- Telling them you know how they feel – Even if you have experienced something similar, people experience situations very differently. It can be unhelpful to make comparisons.
- Telling them they are lucky to be alive – People who have experienced traumatic events often won’t feel lucky. Often, they can feel guilty for being alive if others have died.
- Minimising their experience – Avoid suggesting it could have been worse, even if you are trying to make them feel better. This can make people feel as though their traumatic experience isn’t justified.
- Making unhelpful suggestions – Avoid making suggestions, even if you have found that these have worked for you in the past. People are very different and often they may have already tried what you are suggesting.
How to get a person with PTSD to seek help
Despite the importance of your love and support, this is not always enough. Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD.
There are two areas of treatment where your support will be invaluable: encouraging them to start treatment and then supporting them through it. For someone who doesn’t have PTSD, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘if I felt as bad as they do, I’d try any treatment’ or asking ‘why are they not willing to try treatment when I’m trying so hard to support them’.
The fact of the matter is, treatment is scary. You’re actively asking them to talk, or think in detail about their trauma – and for many people, they’ve spent years ignoring it, or trying to forget about it. Starting treatment is a huge step.
- It is important to understand that pressurising, or pushing someone into treatment is very unlikely to help. Instead, you want to be encouraging, help counter any fears where you can, and do what you can to practically help them. E.g. you can help make appointments etc.
- This is where knowledge about treatments really helps – if you can go into conversations ‘armed’ with details, not only do they see you’re willing to help, but that you care enough to have spent time alone researching.
- Help them picture a life free from PTSD: they’re more independent and in control. Focus on specific problems. If your loved one shuts down when you talk about PTSD or treatment, focus instead on how treatment can help with specific issues like anger management, anxiety, sleep, flashbacks or concentration and memory problems.
- Enlist help from people a person with PTSD respects and trusts. Perhaps it’s their friend, a spiritual leader, a colleague or other family member. Just remember to ask them BEFORE you speak to someone else – going behind their back, even if it’s to help them, could cause major trust and safety issues.
A loved one has PTSD. How to survive if you take care of them?
How can being a carer affect my own mental health?
The responsibility of caring for someone with PTSD can cause a lot of stress. Witnessing their symptoms is often distressing and listening to how they feel, while helpful, can be upsetting. You may find it difficult to cope, which can cause symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
- You may neglect your physical health, such as by not getting enough sleep or exercise, which can affect your mood and reduce your ability to deal with stress.
- The demands of being a carer can also make you feel alone and isolated. Another reason why self-care is so important is because of the potential for secondary traumatisation. What that means is that the spouses, partners, and family members of people with PTSD can develop their own symptoms. This can happen from listening to trauma stories or being exposed to scary symptoms like flashbacks. The more depleted and overwhelmed you feel, the greater the risk that you yourself may become traumatised.
How can I support myself?
It is important to give yourself some respite on a regular basis.
- Looking after your physical health has a big impact on your wellbeing.
- Planning your activities and sticking to a routine is beneficial for both yourself and the person for whom you care.
- If you feel you can’t do anything else, sometimes the best thing you can do is connect with other carers, who will be able to share advice and coping strategies.
If you have managed to cope with PTSD diagnosis in yourself or a loved one – do not underestimate the disease and seek professional help.