The Family’s Role in Supporting PTSD

The Family's Role in Supporting PTSD

Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a shocking, frightening or traumatic event. The condition can cause distressing symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts. Helping someone with PTSD and navigating the effects of PTSD on family members can be challenging, but it’s possible with the right knowledge and support. Below, we’ll explore the family’s role in supporting a loved one with PTSD.

Educate Yourself

Understanding the causes of PTSD and how it manifests can help you offer the right support to your loved one. Unfortunately, several common myths about PTSD can make it harder for people to ask for help or recognize symptoms in themselves or someone else. For instance, some people believe the condition only affects people who’ve experienced combat during a war, but it can actually occur after any traumatic event. Sorting fact from fiction by educating yourself using reputable sources can make it easier to understand your loved one’s experiences and access appropriate PTSD family support.

Create a Safe Environment

Creating a safe, nonjudgmental home environment can help your loved one feel understood. The symptoms of PTSD can make a person feel profoundly unsafe, even when there isn’t an external threat present. Addressing the factors that make the person feel unsafe gives them a secure base to begin recovery.

Understanding what triggers your loved one’s flashbacks or other symptoms can help make your home a safer space. For example, your loved one may find sudden loud noises unbearable. Taking steps to avoid the person’s triggers can help reduce their symptoms. You may need to enlist support from the whole family to prevent triggering events and conversations from occurring.

Having a plan for what to do during a PTSD crisis can also help you and your loved one feel more prepared for challenging times, potentially reducing anxiety. What helps during a flashback depends on the person, and you can ask the person what support they prefer. Many people find the following measures reassuring:

  • Remaining calm
  • Explaining to the person that they’re having a flashback
  • Avoiding sudden noises or movements
  • Encouraging slow, deep breathing
  • Asking the person to talk about their surroundings

Promote Effective Communication

Effective communication can help the whole family navigate supporting someone with PTSD. However, communication can often be more challenging between someone with PTSD and their family because they may have trouble expressing their feelings or feel reluctant to share distressing thoughts with their loved ones. Furthermore, family members often feel anxious about saying or doing something that could upset the affected person.

Good communication requires active listening without interrupting. Consider what the person says, and validate their feelings instead of arguing or attempting to counteract their points. Asking follow-up questions can help you understand their point of view more clearly. If the person struggles to express their feelings, asking them whether they feel angry or upset can help them find the words they need.

Positivity can also improve relationships and prevent conversations from becoming blame-focused. While PTSD can cause significant distress to the person and their support network, approaching conversations positively can make reaching a mutual understanding easier and generate effective solutions.

It can be hard to know how to help someone with PTSD, and you may feel tempted to offer unsolicited advice on how the person should manage their condition. However, this type of conversation can be overwhelming for your family member and may lead to conflict. Instead, consider asking the person what support or help they need. If your family member doesn’t want to talk right now, give them space and let them know you’re there when they feel ready.

The advice above applies to the family members of a person with PTSD, too. Ensuring everyone feels comfortable talking about their feelings and concerns can prevent minor issues from snowballing into bigger problems and reduce feelings of isolation. If you struggle to communicate, consider engaging in family therapy to facilitate healthy conversations. You can ask your family doctor or specialized addiction clinic to help you find a family therapist with experience providing PTSD family support.

Provide Nonjudgmental Emotional Support

Emotionally supporting your loved one can help reduce the severity of their PTSD symptoms in many cases. Specifically, positive support from family members can improve the prognosis of someone with PTSD. Furthermore, it’s known that a strong social support system can reduce the likelihood of someone developing PTSD following a traumatic event.

Allowing the person to talk about their feelings and experiences at their own pace can help reduce pressure on them during a difficult time. Seeing your loved one distressed can be upsetting, but letting them express their emotions is essential. Avoid assuming how they feel or attempting to minimize the impact of their trauma.

It’s natural to want your loved one to recover quickly because you care for their well-being. However, PTSD recovery takes time, and the symptoms can be hard to understand unless you’ve experienced the condition firsthand. Avoiding judging the person for the time it takes to heal or suggesting they could have done something differently to prevent their condition.

Assist in Seeking Professional Help

Professional mental health specialists can help your loved one access the treatment they need to recover. Generally, seeking professional help with the person’s permission is best. However, you should always get urgent help if you think your loved one is at risk of suicide.

Your family doctor can refer your loved one to a specialist. Alternatively, you could consider seeking support from a mental health clinic with experience treating PTSD.

Acknowledge the Effects of PTSD on Family and Practice Self-Care

The effects of PTSD on family members can be extensive, and it’s essential to care for your own mental health too. Your needs also matter; you can support your loved one more effectively when you’re physically and mentally well. Acknowledging the impact of the person’s condition and practicing self-care can help you stay well during challenging times. If you’re struggling, consider contacting a therapist or another trusted person for support.

Get Expert Help Today

The right PTSD family support can help your loved one toward recovery. The experts at Restore Mental Health have extensive knowledge of the effects of PTSD on families and can provide the expert treatment your family member needs. Contact us today to discuss options with a member of our team.