Helping a Family Member Who Has PTSD
When someone has posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can change family life. Those with PTSD may act differently – they may get angry easily, or act jittery or “on edge.” They may seem less happy, and not want to do things you used to enjoy together.
It’s normal for you to be affected when someone you love has PTSD. You may feel like you don’t know how to support your loved one. You may feel helpless when they are upset or in crisis. And you may wonder if things will ever go back to the way they were.
It is important to learn about PTSD so you can understand the symptoms, treatment options, and ways you can help. You also need to take care of yourself. Changes in family life are stressful, and taking care of yourself is an important part of caring for your loved one.
How can I help?
There are many things you can do to help your loved one. Here are some things you can do:
Learn as much as you can about PTSD. Knowing how PTSD can affect people will help you understand what your loved one is going through. The more you know, the better you can give support.
Offer to go to healthcare provider visits with your loved one. You can take notes and help keep track of recommended treatments.
Check in with your loved one often. This can help you figure out which support strategies are working, so you can focus on what’s most helpful. Let your loved one know that you want to listen and that you also understand if they don’t feel like talking.
Make a crisis plan together. You can’t always prevent a crisis, but you can learn to recognize triggers. You can also learn what your loved one feels is most helpful if a stressful situation develops.
Plan enjoyable activities with family and friends, like having dinner or taking a walk. Encourage your loved one to do things, but go at their pace.
How can I help my loved one get treatment?
Learning about effective PTSD treatments can help you talk with your loved one about getting help. Your loved one needs to make the decision to get treatment. Being able to talk about treatment options can help in making that choice.
Here are some tips:
Be patient. Most people need time to make the decision to seek treatment. Show support and concern, and remind your loved one that getting help is their choice.
Talk about treatment choices. By learning about effective PTSD treatments, you can help your loved one learn about options.
Use VA resources. VA offers a free telephone service called Coaching Into Care. Coaching Into Care staff can help you make a plan to talk with your loved one about getting help and find local VA services.
How can I communicate better?
When someone you love has PTSD, it may be difficult to talk about feelings, worries, and everyday problems. Here are some tips that can help:
Let your loved one share at their own pace. It can be hard for people with PTSD to talk about their trauma and their feelings. Understand if your loved one doesn’t want to share everything.
Be a good listener. Try not to interrupt or judge your loved one. You don’t need to fix things. You can repeat back what your loved one tells you to make sure you understand.
Share your feelings, too. Your loved one may not know you are sad, worried, or frustrated if you don’t talk about it.
Ask how you can help. Asking open-ended questions like “how do you feel?” are helpful.
How can I take care of myself?
Supporting someone with PTSD can take a lot of time and energy. It can also be very stressful.
Taking care of yourself is not selfish, and it’s important to make time to do so. If your needs are met, you’ll be better able to support your loved one. Here are some tips:
Take care of your own health. Managing stress by getting sleep, eating right, exercising, and staying connected to others is helpful.
Keep doing the things you like to do. Give yourself things to look forward to, like hobbies you enjoy and time with friends.
Talk about what you’re going through with close family and friends. You can also find a local support group to talk with people who are having similar experiences.
Consider getting help from a mental healthcare provider. A counselor or therapist can help you deal with difficult emotions. They can also help you work on other things, like communicating with your loved one.
For more information
Treatment for PTSD health sheet
PTSD Treatment Decision Aid
AboutFace Veteran PTSD Website
Coaching Into Care free phone service