PTSD stands for posttraumatic stress disorder. It is a psychological disorder that usually affects people who have experienced some sort of violent or traumatic event, such as a car accident, personal attack, or fighting in a war. Most people experience feelings of fear during and after a traumatic event, and those feelings are normal. However, when the feelings do not subside over time, the person may be diagnosed with PTSD.
PTSD is often commonly associated with veterans and has also been referred to as “shell shock” and “battle fatigue.” However, not all veterans experience PTSD and it is not only veterans who suffer from the disorder. PTSD can even occur without a person having been involved in a dangerous situation. For example, if a loved one dies suddenly, a person could experience PTSD.
Being a caregiver for someone with PTSD can be challenging. To be an effective caregiver for someone with PTSD, it’s important to understand the symptoms and how caregivers can help.
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD usually start within three months of the event, but it is possible for someone to start showing signs of PTSD years later. The symptoms of PTSD affect a person’s ability to work or their personal relationships, and sometimes both. The course of the disorder varies. Some people are able to overcome the disorder in months, while others may take years, and still others may have chronic PTSD that never goes away. Symptoms of PTSD are divided into four types. They are:
- Re-experiencing Symptoms: Nightmares, flashbacks, and thoughts that cause fear.
- Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms: Trouble sleeping, outbursts of anger, startling easily, and feeling tense.
- Avoidance Symptoms: Staying away from things that remind the person of the event or avoiding thoughts or feelings that are related to the event.
- Cognition and Mood Symptoms: Negative thoughts, problems remember important parts of the event, feelings that are distorted, and losing interest in once enjoyable activities.
How Caregivers Can Help
Caregivers to people with PTSD sometimes feel like there is nothing they can do to make the situation. In reality, there are many strategies that can make living with PTSD a little easier, such as:
- Being Supportive: People with PTSD often withdraw from others. Be a comforting presence and reassure the person that you are there to help, but don’t pressure them into talking. Try to keep doing things with the person that are unrelated to the disorder and the event that caused it.
- Watch for and Manage Triggers: Some things can trigger a PTSD response because they remind the person of the event. Triggers can be sights, sounds, smells, objects, or people. Talk to the person about what their triggers are and things that help them when they encounter a trigger. Make a plan together for dealing with triggers.
- Listen: When the person does feel like talking, be a good listener. Let them know you want to listen and that you care about what they have to say, but don’t make judgements.
If you suspect your loved one is suffering from PTSD, seek help from a qualified medical provider. Don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Recovering from PTSD often requires multiple therapy sessions with a psychiatrist.
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