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5 Things You Can Do to Support Someone With PTSD

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Having a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sometimes makes you feel like an alien; sometimes it makes you feel alienated. Not everyone with PTSD got their diagnosis because of the same type of trauma, or even the same reaction to their trauma. So, knowing how to respond to and support someone you know with PTSD can feel a bit tricky.

• What is PTSD?

Here is a list of five things that you can do to support the person you care about. Please keep in mind this list is created by me, someone who endured a specific reason for being diagnosed with PTSD and someone who has specific ways the trauma is triggered. But this is an attempt to bridge the gap between those of us who deal with PTSD and those in our lives who care about us.

1. Do not mistake a PTSD diagnosis as a diagnosis of weakness.

Someone with a diagnosis of PTSD is a person who has moments of feeling weak. It does not equate to someone being a weak person. There is a huge difference. Responding to one with PTSD as though they are strong shows them they have dignity and value in your eyes. Assuming that they are weak or “broken” removes what dignity they have remaining from the trauma(s) that they endured.

2. If a person says they have PTSD, ask if they care to share more.

Having PTSD has countless challenges associated with it. When someone is open enough to confide they have PTSD, please know that is a huge trust shared with you. Some may choose to share more now or later, or they may not. What is important is the person with PTSD feels safe. Revealing this information is not the same as sharing what college one attended or their favorite sport that naturally leads to additional social conversation. Sometimes just saying that is a large enough step for one day.

You can politely ask if they would like to share more. This gives the person an out. It puts control back in their hands. Control shows respect and caring and is a healing aspect for those with PTSD. If you are told no, please respect that boundary.

3. Ask if there is anything you can do.

If someone shares that they are being triggered or feeling off or dealing with anxiety, simply ask if you can do anything. Closed-ended questions often get a bad reputation in professions such as sales, retail or counseling. Yet, for those dealing with PTSD, they can be helpful. The simplicity of elicited response allows the individual a quick answer without the expectation of lengthy conversation. If the response is yes, ask how you can assist. If the response is no, leave the subject alone and trust the answer.

4. Be willing to listen.

If you are being confided in, please listen. Know this is not a typical conversation in which your opinion or experiences should be shared in equal measure. When someone shares their most vulnerable aspects with you, it is a gift. Treasure it as sacred and fragile. Listen with open ears. Listen with an open heart.

5. Keep it confidential.

As someone is sharing their experiences with you, whether past or present, nurture what they reveal. Keep this information private. Remember, part of healing for those with PTSD is the aspect of trust. Simply keeping conversations confidential can add to one’s healing journey. Experiences that warrant PTSD diagnoses are so traumatic or horrifying, they can rip someone to their core. Their sense of safety can be completely absent. In keeping the smallest conversation protected, it allows the steps of safety to be reintroduced and trust to begin.

Please note: If someone mentions suicide as an option, please take all talk of suicide seriously. Saving someone’s life so they can receive proper treatment is of tremendous importance. In these instances, confidentiality is overstepped by physical and mental safety.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: July 11, 2016
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