How to help someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It can be challenging when you have a loved one that suffers from PTSD. It is a disorder that tends to interfere with their everyday life. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to help. These are discussed below.
It is a good idea to read as much information on PTSD as you can. Understanding PTSD and how it works will help you to recognize the ways that your loved one is affected, and the ways that you can help.
Help them to feel safe and supported
A person with PTSD sees the world as a dangerous and frightening place. It is important for you to help them feel safe and supported.
Be dependable and trustworthy
Try to stick to your promises and commitment towards them. Remind them that you are there for them, whenever they need you.
PTSD might be something that is difficult for you to understand, but it is a real problem for them. Let them know that they are accepted no matter what. Avoid being judgemental or critical about their difficulties. Here are 20 things not to say to someone with PTSD.
PTSD might make it difficult for them to do certain activities. It will take some time before they can recover from this disorder. Be patient and continue to show your support without putting on too much pressure.
Help them to find the right support
You can encourage them to find support through a GP or a therapist. If this involves your young child, you can contact these services. You might:
- Help them to book an appointment with a GP or therapist
- Offer support when they attend appointments (e.g. waiting in the waiting room or attending some sessions if you need to)
- Help them search for support groups or self-help resources (e.g. leaflets, mindfulness apps, relaxation sessions)
- Encourage them to keep attending sessions and to not give up
- Give them small reminders to do their homework assigned by the therapist
Create a secure environment for them
You can make some adjustments that will help them feel more safe and secure, wherever they are. You might:
- Avoid the things that trigger them (e.g. crowded places, loud noises, sudden movements)
- Let friends and family know how to approach them
- Try to keep a calm atmosphere at home
- Minimize stress at home (e.g. avoiding arguments, letting the neighbours know)
- Allow them to have their personal space
Be open to listen
Take the time to just sit with them and listen. You do not always need to give advice and have all the answers. It is more important that your loved one feels heard by you. This will help to create a safe space for them, where they can feel comfortable to share their difficulties out loud.
Help them to cope during a flashback
Be prepared to support your loved one as they experience a flashback or panic attack. This can be a very stressful situation for both you and your loved one. Here are some things that you can do:
- Stay calm and relaxed
- Be mindful about making sudden movements
- Help them to ground themselves by getting them to describe their surroundings
- Encourage them to take some deep breaths for some minutes
- Let them know that they might be having a flashback
- Reassure them that they are safe now
Help them to have a routine
Having a routine can help them to feel less anxious because they will know what to expect. You might help them to:
- Make a schedule for their day
- Make a checklist
- Have a regular dinner and bedtime routine
- Talk in advance about any changes to the schedule
Know what NOT to do
When it comes to our loved ones, it makes sense to do whatever it takes to help them feel better. But this is not always a good thing. Here are some things to be mindful of when supporting a loved one with PTSD:
- Do not blame or be critical of their difficulties
- Do not tell them to snap out of it
- Do not pressure them into situations that make them uncomfortable
- Avoid overpowering them by doing everything for them, when they are capable of doing it themselves
- Don’t assume they will be okay in certain situations without asking first
Look after yourself too
It is extremely important for you to look after yourself. Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, you will be in a better position to give help, as long as you are taking care of your own well-being too. To do this you might:
- Get other family members also involved in supporting your loved one
- Schedule some time off for yourself
- See a professional that can support your mental health
To read more about looking after yourself, see our page on self-care when helping someone else.
List of useful resources
To read more information about PTSD on the NHS website, you can click here to access the link.
To read information about helping someone with PTSD on the MIND website, you can click here to access the link.
To read information about helping someone with PTSD on the PTSD UK website, you can click here to access the link.