How to Help Someone with PTSD

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

PTSD is a serious condition that may even lead to suicide. This is why it's important you understand some of the basics about helping someone with this condition.

What Is PTSD?

It's self-evident that an extremely traumatic event like military combat, rape, torture, violent assault, and many others is bad enough on its own. But while that event and the physical scars related to them may eventually heal, the ordeal never truly goes away for a lot of people. What was once considered to be nothing more than make-believe or weakness is a really serious issue called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that's caused by events such as the ones recently mentioned. One that causes anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and many other problems for a long time.

People who have PTSD should not be shy about getting the help they need. While this lesson will not teach you the clinical techniques necessary to help someone with PTSD it will show you how you can help a loved one with this condition.

Talking To A Professional

Let's say you are very good friends with Bill. For well over a month, Bill has confided in you that he has had a lot of really bad nightmares regarding his traumatic event. He has constant flashbacks that send chills down his spine and make his heart race. He even jumps at every minor noise. He admits he feels afraid and constantly looks over his shoulder. You've also noticed that all of this has eaten into Bill's daily routines. For instance, he's been calling in sick to work when he's not ill in the traditional sense. He's even dropped out of night school.

Because Bill's disorder has been going on for so long and has affected not only his mental and physical state but also his life in general, it's important that you encourage Bill to seek out the help of a doctor or mental health professional.

Supporting The Person

Whether Bill decides to take your advice right there and then or not, you can still help him in many different ways. All of them boil down to being there for him without trying to 'fix' the problem. First, be ready and willing to listen. This doesn't mean trying to cajole Bill at every opportunity to talk to you. Don't force the issue. Just let him know that you are there for him and want to hear his thoughts and feelings. Leave it at that, especially if Bill isn't ready to talk to you then.

One day, Bill decides he'd like to share something with you. Ensure that when the talk happens, both of you are free (in terms of time and commitments) and are in a place where you won't be distracted or interrupted. Once Bill starts talking, simply listen. If you don't understand something or miss something entirely, it's ok to ask a question. However, do not say things like 'I know how you feel', because you may not truly know if you haven't been through what Bill has.

As you listen to Bill, you notice that he is becoming really tense. Sometimes he becomes really angry at the situation and other times he seems to be desperate. If you sense the conversation is becoming too much for Bill, let him know that it's ok to stop now and that both of you can pick up the conversation some other time.

Talk of Suicide

If, during the talk or another time, you ever hear that Bill is even remotely hinting at suicide you need to do a few things:

  • First, remain calm but respond right away
  • Do not leave Bill alone
  • If you can, remove any sharp objects, firearms, medications, and so forth so they cannot be used to inflict harm upon oneself
  • Encourage Bill to talk to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or get help from another trained medical or mental health professional right away.
  • If you feel that the situation is dire and none of those are an option as a result then make sure to call 911 right away.

Other Points Of Note

Besides what you've learned, there are many other things to consider when helping someone with PTSD, such as the following:

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