What Everyone Should Know about PTSD

Officer visits wounded soldier in hospital

The symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been around for a long time, but the diagnosis is relatively new.

The first official procedure for diagnosing PTSD wasn’t recorded until 1980. Because the diagnosis is so new, most people do not have a good understanding of PTSD, yet the disorder affects 3.5% of the population. Chances are you already know someone who suffers from PTSD, maybe without even realizing it.

More than anything, victims need support and understanding, so spreading awareness is very important. Since today is National PTSD Awareness Day, it is the perfect day for you to learn about PTSD so you can better support its victims.

The 4 Symptoms of PTSD

Doctors take into account an array of symptoms when diagnosing PTSD. These symptoms fall into four broad classes. A person must show symptoms from each category for a diagnosis. These symptoms can be very debilitating.

1. Re-experiencing trauma

People with PTSD frequently relive the traumatic event that brought on their disorder. The trauma comes back in the form of nightmares, images, or vivid flashbacks.

2. Avoiding people and situations

Victims will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid anything that could trigger memories of their trauma. In extreme cases, this can lead to a fear of interacting with other people, or even of leaving home.

3. Developing negative outlooks

PTSD may permanently alter victims’ worldviews. Sufferers may think of themselves as weak or damaged by their trauma. They might have trouble trusting others, or they might become pessimistic about the world. These changes in belief often come with negative emotions.

4. Feeling anxious or paranoid

Constant anxiety or jumpiness often plague people with PTSD. Because of this, combined with their past experiences, people with PTSD might seem highly sensitive or have a tendency to overreact in certain situations. They may also display hyper-vigilance, which means that they might seem paranoid.

How to help

Watching someone you love suffer from PTSD can be difficult, overwhelming, and leave you feeling helpless. But there are ways you can help. Here are just a few tips for things you can do to help someone close to you overcome PTSD.

Be patient and create connections

Survivors of trauma need human connection and emotional support. Unfortunately, PTSD can negatively affect relationships, so victims often inadvertently push away those who can best help them. They need loved ones to be patient with them so they don’t lose the support they need. Relationships provide someone to lean on, which improves self-esteem. Relationships also help them fight loneliness and feel connected. If someone close to you has PTSD, try to keep the relationship going, even if it is hard.

Beware of burnout

Though it is important to remain close to those suffering from PTSD, understand you can’t do everything. You may be tempted to try and jump in and solve your loved one’s problems, but that tendency can be dangerous.

While helping others, you need to make sure to keep your own life and mental health in balance to avoid becoming emotionally burned out. If someone with PTSD has come to rely on you for emotional support, you can actually do more damage than good by helping too much up front and then having to pull away when things become overwhelming. This can develop feelings of mistrust and cause those you love to relapse. Those with PTSD need a reliable, constant source of support, and their recovery may take considerable time. Be sure that whatever help you offer in the beginning is sustainable throughout the entire recovery process.

Also understand that though you can help those you love find healing, ultimately they are the ones responsible for their recovery.

Engage them in life

Victims of PTSD need constructive distractions. You can help a loved one find constructive recreation or invite them to fun activities, but make sure you are always sensitive. You should be aware of and avoid anything that might cause them to experience flashbacks or anxiety. While you try to help them engage with the world, make sure you do not make things harder for them.

Get professional help

Last, encourage sufferers to get professional help. Untreated PTSD can last a lifetime. With treatment, many people overcome PTSD and live fulfilled lives without constantly reliving their trauma.

For additional help and information, check out the Department of Veterans Affairs information page on PTSD. If you still have questions, please give us a call at 801.890.1030 or stop by one of our offices.


Photo by US Army via Flickr