Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short, is an often crippling condition that affects those who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It is quite common for survivors of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse to suffer from this disorder. While not all people who go through a traumatic experience develop the disorder, there is still a significant number of people who suffer from it. Veterans and military personnel who have served on the front lines are some of the most commonly affected people, which should come as no surprise considering the horrors they must have experienced in war zones. If you know someone who suffers from PTSD, this guide will help you understand what it is and how you can help them.
WHAT IS PTSD?
It is a mental disorder that develops when someone is exposed to trauma. There is no concrete definition of trauma; it could be anything from witnessing war crimes in war zones to growing up with abusive or absent parents. The effect of such traumatic incidents depends on how the person responds to the event. People with PTSD often experience anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and insomnia. The less obvious symptoms include intrusive thoughts that often come with flashbacks and horrifying mental images. Most of the time, these intrusive thoughts are triggered by certain sounds, smells, words, actions, places, people, or anything else that the patient’s brain might particularly associate with a traumatic event.
PTSD is also characterized by severe mood swings. Aside from the frequent depressive episodes, patients with PTSD tend to become highly irritable and/or withdrawn. It goes back to the barrage of negative thoughts that plague their minds, from self-blame, self-hate, and distrust for others to excessive and uncontrollable fear, among many others.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
For some, time heals all wounds. The more distance and time they put between them and the traumatic experience, the more their mental and emotional wounds heal until the event loses power over them. Others, on the other hand, require some form of therapy where they learn how to define and address their emotions and how to properly deal with them. Eventually, they, too, manage to recover from those events. As for medication, not everyone requires it, and it is not exactly necessary to overcome the disorder. It could be a helpful tool for some, but it is by no means a substitution for therapy.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
When a patient is put under pressure, the disorder often worsens. This is almost always the case with veterans because when they are discharged, they are often thrown into a society that they aren’t familiar with and into the pressures of life. For those who come back with disabilities, the pressure is far greater. If possible, try to eliminate anything that might stress them out, but don’t overwhelm yourself. If you need to handle any legal affairs on their behalf, don’t hesitate to seek the assistance of veterans disability lawyers, and save your efforts for personal, day-to-day things instead. Remember that, first and foremost, you have to be there for them and connect with them on an emotional level.
GIVE THEM SPACE
Helping out a PTSD patient can be tricky at first because, when our loved ones are suffering, our first instinct is usually to try and find out what’s wrong with them, then attack the problem until it is no more, which doesn’t work with PTSD patients. You need to find the perfect balance between respecting their space and encouraging them to face their emotions. Trust that they will eventually overcome their trauma at their own pace.
Facing a trigger is one of the most stressful experiences for a PTSD patient. The mere scent of a particular soap could bring back memories of a dreaded person or a place, which can trigger intense flashbacks. Ask your loved ones if they have any particular triggers, and try to keep interactions with those triggers as minimal as possible.
Love, care, patience, and support. All of the above doesn’t matter if you don’t offer those four things. Kindness is what PTSD patients need to defeat the fear and anger they are forced to carry around, so be sure to provide that. As you do, don’t neglect yourself. You can’t take care of someone else if you are barely getting by yourself, so be sure to give yourself enough love and alone time to replenish your energy. What will carry you both through this journey is patience and trust. Celebrate the little wins and pick them up when they fall. Many survivors have overcome PTSD, and so will they.