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How to Help Loved Ones Dealing With Post-Traumatic Stress

Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick
Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick

The month of June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. If you or a loved one think you may be struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), it is important to keep an open conversation, recognize the symptoms and seek help. PTS is defined as “a common, normal and often adaptive response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event or events,” and 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 traumatic experiences are beyond self-correction and require much more attention to help the individual function normally and move forward.

Is someone in your life struggling with Post Traumatic Stress? “LEEP” into helping and supporting them by following these guidelines:

  1. 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.
  2. Educate yourself – Understanding PTS 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Here in our home state of New Hampshire, 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 a resource line to leave a confidential message, and a NAMI NH team member will return the call within 24 hours. A trained staff member is able to provide specific information about the programs and support types they offer. Psychology Today allows you to narrow down a search by what type of therapy you are in need of and provides contact information, location, and even a picture of therapists in your area. Any hospital or primary care physician can also provide resources if you are unsure where to start.

In an effort to help break the stigma and raise awareness around mental illness, including PTS, some heavy-hitting advocates have made it their mission to open up the conversation around the topic. At the recent Seacoast Veterans Conference, held at Service Credit Union’s corporate headquarters, former Chief Justice John Broderick shared the story of his eldest son, who suffered from mental illness through young adulthood, and elaborated on how well he is doing now after the illness was addressed properly. He spoke about how his generation hid it, and with that hiding came shame and a disregard for open, healthy, conversations around this treatable illness. Broderick believes that the younger generation has the ability to change the direction of mental illness by being more open about it in hopes that those suffering will be more willing to come forward and seek the help they need. By speaking at various schools in New England, Broderick’s goal is to educate youth on the signs of mental illness in a campaign to change the culture in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.

The second speaker, Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, U.S. Army (Ret.), spoke of his own battle with PTS that materialized after 32 years of active duty service to this country. Bolduc now has a truly meaningful mission to combat the stigma around posttraumatic stress, and when first opening up about his struggles, was the only active-duty general officer to do so. In striving to change the conversation, Bolduc has been able to continue his service off the battlefield by sharing his leadership mantra of “People, Family, Mission,” and talk openly about his personal experiences with mental health while educating others along the way.

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