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Recognizing the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress, and How to Help

The month of June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. If you or a loved one think you may be struggling with PTSD, it is important to keep an open conversation, recognize the symptoms and seek help. PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic and potentially life-threatening event, such as combat or a natural disaster. It affects millions of people every year, especially in the veteran and military communities.

In 2007, Staff Sergeant Joe Diel took his own life after suffering from PTS, and following this tragedy, Senator Ken Conrad of North Dakota pushed to get an official day of awareness around the disorder. In 2010, June 27, SSgt Biel’s birthday, was named the official PTSD Awareness day. Four years later, the U.S. Senate designated the full month of June for National PTSD awareness.

It is fair to say that most everyone has experienced, or will experience, some sort of event that challenges their senses and causes some disarray, but for many, the effects are short-term and do not create a disruption large enough to need help. For others, the effects of their post traumatic stress (PTS) are beyond self-correction and may develop into PTSD.

Is someone in your life struggling with PTSD? You can help and support them by following these guidelines:

Listen – Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen to your loved ones’ needs. Do not talk to them about your own feelings or offer unprompted advice; rather, ask how you can help, and give them space when needed.

Educate yourself – Understanding PTSD is the first step you can take to help someone who may be suffering from it. Your loved one is most likely experiencing uncontrollable thoughts, intense anxiety, nightmares, and/or flashbacks. Oftentimes people experience sleep deprivation, extreme stress, and feelings of intense fear and helplessness, which can make it more difficult for the individual to see the situation clearly and make the right choices for treatment. Educating yourself on the illness will help you relate to the person you are trying to help and will help prepare you for what to expect and what they are going through.

Offer encouragement – You can help your loved ones by encouraging them to seek outside help. Whether that means their primary care provider, a hospital, or therapy, seeking outside help from a professional is imperative for successful recovery and improvement. By working with a specialist, the individual will be able to make an educated decision on the course of treatment that is best for them, and for the family as a whole. Offer to go to appointments with them, and encourage them to contact family and close friends to build a stronger support system.

Provide a safe place – One thing that can be helpful for many is to establish dependable and predictable routines. This can help the individual gain back some control by knowing what to expect and having consistency. Providing a safe place also includes emotional safety, so be dependable, be trustworthy, keep your commitments to them and be reliable.

There are many resources available to help you and your loved one cope, manage and move past the symptoms of PTS. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) offers local resource lines by state to leave a confidential message, which a NAMI team member will return within 24 hours. If you are a veteran in crisis, or concerned about one, you are eligible for free support from the Veterans Crisis Line.

In our home state of New Hampshire, we are proud to partner with the Seacoast Mental Health Center, which provides both telehealth and in-person care. Any hospital or primary care physician can also provide resources if you are unsure where to start.

It is important to remember that PTSD is not a sign of weakness; it is an illness and one that is treatable. If someone in your life is suffering from PTSD, remember to listen, educate, encourage, and provide.