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How You Can Help a Loved One by Understanding PTSD

October 20, 2015 Posted in: Family Health , Article

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, can be a painful experience for all involved. It's capable of changing the moods, desires, and sociability of the afflicted, causing strain on relationships and disrupting lives. By better understanding PTSD, you'll be more sympathetic to what your close friend or loved one is going through and be able to offer them the support and care necessary to aid in their recovery.

How Do You Know It's PTSD?

When we're afraid, our bodies go into a "fight or flight" response, causing our adrenaline to rise, our hearts to race, and our pupils to dilate. While this is a normal -- and even healthy -- reaction to a traumatic event, it might signify PTSD if symptoms last longer than a month after the event has passed.

Symptoms of PTSD

These symptoms, because of their disruptive nature, are capable of causing problems in the sufferer's personal life, potentially leading to trouble at work, relationship issues, or even drug or alcohol dependency. Feelings of hopelessness, shame, and despair may arise from the loss of emotional control. Common symptoms include:

  • Reliving the trauma over and over, including physical reactions such as a racing heart, sweating, nightmares, and frightening thoughts.
  • Avoiding places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience.
  • Feeling emotional numbness, strong guilt, depression, or worry.
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Having trouble remembering the traumatic event clearly.

How Does PTSD Develop?

PTSD is often associated with war veterans, but it could stem from a car accident or other traumatic event. Scientists are studying why some people develop PTSD while others do not, despite undergoing the same trauma. Some potential factors include:

  • Genetics. Genes may be a factor because they are necessary for creating fear memories, which trigger PTSD.
  • Brain areas. Also being studied are certain areas of the brain, such as the amygdala, which is responsible for emotion, learning, and memory. No two brains are the same, and it's possible that some of us possess a more active amygdala than others.
  • Personal history. Childhood trauma, a past head injury, or a history of mental illness may also increase the risk of developing PTSD. These early events may affect the development of the brain.

Other factors include the intensity or duration of the trauma, whether the victim suffered injury or lost a loved one, how helpless the event made them feel, and the support received after the event passed.

How You Can Help

You've already taken the first step in helping your loved one by making an effort to better understand PTSD. But what else can you do?

  1. Offer to go to doctor visits, which allows you to help keep track of medication and therapy while also providing support during what can be a difficult moment.
  2. Simply informing a friend or loved one that you're open to listening to their concerns shows a level of acceptance, but at the same time, be understanding if they don't feel like talking.
  3. Don't be afraid to plan activities, whether it's going out to dinner, taking walks, or seeing a movie, to encourage more socialization and moments of normalcy.
  4. Encourage contact with family and close friends helps to maintain relationships and provide a wider support network of human connection.
  5. Above all, don't forget to also take care of yourself. PTSD is a difficult disorder to manage in others, and engaging in your own self-care makes it easier to cope. Sometimes listening to the stories of the person suffering from PTSD can lead to you being traumatized yourself. Reaching out to groups such as NAMI, PTSD United, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may provide comfort to the person affected, as well as their surrounding family and friends.

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