Mostly everyone is aware of PTSD and that some of our military who served in combat have PTSD but, let’s be honest, we often are at a loss as to how to help someone with PTSD. Following are some guidelines for your information:
The following is co-authored by Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph. D. and Dr. William Gibson:
If you have a friend or family member you know or believe has PTSD, here are some ways you can help them:
Be aware that PTSD can leave sufferers believing the world is fundamentally unsafe and that they can trust almost no one. They behave out of character. PTSD alters people in significant ways that affect behavior. In addition to distressing symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, loss of memory, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, and intrusive memories or images, they often feel emotionally numb and socially isolated, cut off from others and from their own feelings. And they may try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs or be self-destructive.
As much as you can, do not allow your worry or guilt to co-opt their struggle. You may feel at a loss for how to respond. You may even blame yourself for the sufferer’s experiences or reactions. However, the situation is about the other person’s experience and his or her struggle to make sense of it, not about you, about whether you’re a good partner or parent or friend, or about anything you have done.
You may also feel uncomfortable talking to the person about his or her experiences. Maybe you find yourself saying, well, it wasn’t that bad, or other people had it worse. Maybe you interrupt or change the subject. While you may think you are protecting yourself and the person from re-experiencing the horrific situation, you are likely sending a message that the PTSD sufferer cannot feel safe discussing all aspects of him or herself with you–and at worst, you may add to their trauma by underscoring their feelings of separation and alienation.
It helps to remember that the symptoms that constitute PTSD arise from a normal human defense system triggered by traumatizing experiences. These symptoms are not a sign of character weakness or mental defect.