PTSD: Supporting a Family Member or Friend

Reviewed Sep 20, 2017

Close

E-mail Article

Complete form to e-mail article…

Required fields are denoted by an asterisk (*) adjacent to the label.

Separate multiple recipients with a comma

Close

Sign-Up For Newsletters

Complete this form to sign-up for newsletters…

Required fields are denoted by an asterisk (*) adjacent to the label.

 

Summary

  • PTSD demands patience and understanding from friends and loved ones.
  • PTSD symptoms such as outbursts or withdrawal can strain relationships.
  • Have a strategy for dealing with anger.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy to live with—and that’s true not just for those who have been diagnosed with it. Families and friends of people with PTSD can go through pain of their own. PTSD can strain relationships and test patience. It can change behavior in sometimes frightening ways. Treating it can be a discouraging process. As with much emotional illness, PTSD can drain caregivers as well as those who have it directly.

First, get treatment started

Maybe the most important thing to remember, and to tell your friend or loved one, is that PTSD can be treated, and recovery is possible. And when treatment is working, you should see signs of improvement fairly soon. Staying the course pays off.

It’s crucial to get treatment started without delay. PTSD is not a condition that can be cured with emotional support alone, or with self-help. People with PTSD can’t be talked into “snapping out of it.” It’s out of the control of their rational mind. They need expert help. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says, “The first and most important thing you can do to help a friend or relative is to get him or her the right diagnosis and treatment.” You may have to push your loved one to take this step. You may have to be the one to make the appointment. You should also offer to go along on visits to the doctor.

If the diagnosis is right and the treatment method works, the NIMH says symptoms should get better in 6 to 8 weeks. If not, seek different treatment. But be patient through all of this. Remember that no treatment for PTSD is 100 percent effective. A method that works on one individual may not work on another. It may take some time before you find what works in any given case.

Learn and listen

PTSD has an effect on behavior that can be hard to take for friends and family. One symptom is “hyperarousal,” a state of irritability in which one feels as though he must be constantly “on guard” and may be prone to outbursts of anger. PTSD can also lead to emotional numbness and withdrawal. When a person experiences these symptoms, it is important to understand that “It’s the PTSD, not the person.” In order to understand, you need to learn everything you can about PTSD and how it affects those who have it.

There are a number of books and websites devoted to PTSD. A good place to start is the website of the National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s at www.ptsd.va.gov. It focuses on veterans and their families, but it has information that is useful to anyone. For more helpful sites and books, see “Resources” at the end of this article.

Listening is another way to understand—and to help. A person who has PTSD may want to talk about her traumatic experience a lot. As a friend or family member, you may feel like saying, “You need to stop reliving the past.” Instead, it is more helpful to recognize that person needs to share feelings—it helps him feel less alone. So be ready to listen. On one point, experts say, it does make sense to disagree. That is on the issue of guilt. When someone who has PTSD keeps blaming herself for whatever happened it is right to say “It wasn’t your fault.” And of course it is good to say, “You are not alone.”

Dealing with anger

At times, the symptoms of PTSD can lead to behaviors that can be threatening. If anger leads to violence, families need to get to a safe place and call for help. Even if anger doesn’t put you in danger, it can get in the way of communication and healing. The National Center for PTSD suggests setting up a “time-out” system that might work like this:

  • Agree that either of you can call a time-out at any time.
  • Agree that when someone calls a time-out, the discussion must stop right then.
  • Decide on a signal you will use to call a time-out. The signal can be a word that you say or a hand signal.
  • Agree to tell each other where you will be and what you will be doing during the time-out. Tell each other what time you will come back.
  • While you are taking a time-out, don't focus on how angry you feel. Instead, think calmly about how you will talk things over and solve the problem.
  • After you come back, take turns talking about solutions to the problem. Listen without interrupting.
  • Be open to each other's ideas. Don't criticize each other.
  • Focus on things you both think will work.
  • Together, agree which solutions you will use.

Take care of yourself and your family

The problems of a loved one who has PTSD can affect the family. Spouses and children can have guilt and shame, sadness, anger, fear, sleep problems and drug and alcohol problems when PTSD interrupts normal life and seems to go on without signs of improvement. Family therapy may be helpful, both for the person with PTSD and those around him.

Whether or not you go into therapy, if you care for a person with PTSD you need to care for yourself. Accept the fact (especially if you see little progress) that you are not in control. Don’t blame yourself if things don’t go according to your expectations. Don’t neglect your mental or physical health. Find time to be by yourself. Don’t give up on your outside life. Get regular exercise and eat healthy foods. And stay connected to people who can help you. These could be friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, people in your religious group, doctors or support groups. You want to have a network in place if you need help with everyday tasks or you need love and understanding.

Resources

On the Web:

The National Center for PTSD
www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/helping-family-member.asp

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Books:

When Someone You Love Suffers from Posttraumatic Stress by Claudia Zayfert and Jason C. DeViva. Guilford Press, 2011.

Once a Warrior Always a Warrior by Charles Hoge. Globe Pequot, 2010.

Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Guide for Families, 2nd ed., by Cheryl A. Roberts. McFarlane, 2011.

After the War Zone: A Practical Guide for Returning Troops and Their Families by Matthew J. Friedman and Laurie B. Slone. Da Capo Press, 2009.

Strategies for Managing Stress After War: Veteran’s Workbook and Guide to Wellness by Julia M. Whealin, Lorie T. DeCarvalho and Edward M. Vega. Wiley, 2008.

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD; National Institute of Mental Health; National Alliance on Mental Illness, "Expert Consensus Guidelines for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (adapted from J Clin Psychiatry, 1999:60, suppl 16).
Reviewed by Cynthia Scott, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • PTSD demands patience and understanding from friends and loved ones.
  • PTSD symptoms such as outbursts or withdrawal can strain relationships.
  • Have a strategy for dealing with anger.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy to live with—and that’s true not just for those who have been diagnosed with it. Families and friends of people with PTSD can go through pain of their own. PTSD can strain relationships and test patience. It can change behavior in sometimes frightening ways. Treating it can be a discouraging process. As with much emotional illness, PTSD can drain caregivers as well as those who have it directly.

First, get treatment started

Maybe the most important thing to remember, and to tell your friend or loved one, is that PTSD can be treated, and recovery is possible. And when treatment is working, you should see signs of improvement fairly soon. Staying the course pays off.

It’s crucial to get treatment started without delay. PTSD is not a condition that can be cured with emotional support alone, or with self-help. People with PTSD can’t be talked into “snapping out of it.” It’s out of the control of their rational mind. They need expert help. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says, “The first and most important thing you can do to help a friend or relative is to get him or her the right diagnosis and treatment.” You may have to push your loved one to take this step. You may have to be the one to make the appointment. You should also offer to go along on visits to the doctor.

If the diagnosis is right and the treatment method works, the NIMH says symptoms should get better in 6 to 8 weeks. If not, seek different treatment. But be patient through all of this. Remember that no treatment for PTSD is 100 percent effective. A method that works on one individual may not work on another. It may take some time before you find what works in any given case.

Learn and listen

PTSD has an effect on behavior that can be hard to take for friends and family. One symptom is “hyperarousal,” a state of irritability in which one feels as though he must be constantly “on guard” and may be prone to outbursts of anger. PTSD can also lead to emotional numbness and withdrawal. When a person experiences these symptoms, it is important to understand that “It’s the PTSD, not the person.” In order to understand, you need to learn everything you can about PTSD and how it affects those who have it.

There are a number of books and websites devoted to PTSD. A good place to start is the website of the National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s at www.ptsd.va.gov. It focuses on veterans and their families, but it has information that is useful to anyone. For more helpful sites and books, see “Resources” at the end of this article.

Listening is another way to understand—and to help. A person who has PTSD may want to talk about her traumatic experience a lot. As a friend or family member, you may feel like saying, “You need to stop reliving the past.” Instead, it is more helpful to recognize that person needs to share feelings—it helps him feel less alone. So be ready to listen. On one point, experts say, it does make sense to disagree. That is on the issue of guilt. When someone who has PTSD keeps blaming herself for whatever happened it is right to say “It wasn’t your fault.” And of course it is good to say, “You are not alone.”

Dealing with anger

At times, the symptoms of PTSD can lead to behaviors that can be threatening. If anger leads to violence, families need to get to a safe place and call for help. Even if anger doesn’t put you in danger, it can get in the way of communication and healing. The National Center for PTSD suggests setting up a “time-out” system that might work like this:

  • Agree that either of you can call a time-out at any time.
  • Agree that when someone calls a time-out, the discussion must stop right then.
  • Decide on a signal you will use to call a time-out. The signal can be a word that you say or a hand signal.
  • Agree to tell each other where you will be and what you will be doing during the time-out. Tell each other what time you will come back.
  • While you are taking a time-out, don't focus on how angry you feel. Instead, think calmly about how you will talk things over and solve the problem.
  • After you come back, take turns talking about solutions to the problem. Listen without interrupting.
  • Be open to each other's ideas. Don't criticize each other.
  • Focus on things you both think will work.
  • Together, agree which solutions you will use.

Take care of yourself and your family

The problems of a loved one who has PTSD can affect the family. Spouses and children can have guilt and shame, sadness, anger, fear, sleep problems and drug and alcohol problems when PTSD interrupts normal life and seems to go on without signs of improvement. Family therapy may be helpful, both for the person with PTSD and those around him.

Whether or not you go into therapy, if you care for a person with PTSD you need to care for yourself. Accept the fact (especially if you see little progress) that you are not in control. Don’t blame yourself if things don’t go according to your expectations. Don’t neglect your mental or physical health. Find time to be by yourself. Don’t give up on your outside life. Get regular exercise and eat healthy foods. And stay connected to people who can help you. These could be friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, people in your religious group, doctors or support groups. You want to have a network in place if you need help with everyday tasks or you need love and understanding.

Resources

On the Web:

The National Center for PTSD
www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/helping-family-member.asp

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Books:

When Someone You Love Suffers from Posttraumatic Stress by Claudia Zayfert and Jason C. DeViva. Guilford Press, 2011.

Once a Warrior Always a Warrior by Charles Hoge. Globe Pequot, 2010.

Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Guide for Families, 2nd ed., by Cheryl A. Roberts. McFarlane, 2011.

After the War Zone: A Practical Guide for Returning Troops and Their Families by Matthew J. Friedman and Laurie B. Slone. Da Capo Press, 2009.

Strategies for Managing Stress After War: Veteran’s Workbook and Guide to Wellness by Julia M. Whealin, Lorie T. DeCarvalho and Edward M. Vega. Wiley, 2008.

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD; National Institute of Mental Health; National Alliance on Mental Illness, "Expert Consensus Guidelines for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (adapted from J Clin Psychiatry, 1999:60, suppl 16).
Reviewed by Cynthia Scott, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • PTSD demands patience and understanding from friends and loved ones.
  • PTSD symptoms such as outbursts or withdrawal can strain relationships.
  • Have a strategy for dealing with anger.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy to live with—and that’s true not just for those who have been diagnosed with it. Families and friends of people with PTSD can go through pain of their own. PTSD can strain relationships and test patience. It can change behavior in sometimes frightening ways. Treating it can be a discouraging process. As with much emotional illness, PTSD can drain caregivers as well as those who have it directly.

First, get treatment started

Maybe the most important thing to remember, and to tell your friend or loved one, is that PTSD can be treated, and recovery is possible. And when treatment is working, you should see signs of improvement fairly soon. Staying the course pays off.

It’s crucial to get treatment started without delay. PTSD is not a condition that can be cured with emotional support alone, or with self-help. People with PTSD can’t be talked into “snapping out of it.” It’s out of the control of their rational mind. They need expert help. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says, “The first and most important thing you can do to help a friend or relative is to get him or her the right diagnosis and treatment.” You may have to push your loved one to take this step. You may have to be the one to make the appointment. You should also offer to go along on visits to the doctor.

If the diagnosis is right and the treatment method works, the NIMH says symptoms should get better in 6 to 8 weeks. If not, seek different treatment. But be patient through all of this. Remember that no treatment for PTSD is 100 percent effective. A method that works on one individual may not work on another. It may take some time before you find what works in any given case.

Learn and listen

PTSD has an effect on behavior that can be hard to take for friends and family. One symptom is “hyperarousal,” a state of irritability in which one feels as though he must be constantly “on guard” and may be prone to outbursts of anger. PTSD can also lead to emotional numbness and withdrawal. When a person experiences these symptoms, it is important to understand that “It’s the PTSD, not the person.” In order to understand, you need to learn everything you can about PTSD and how it affects those who have it.

There are a number of books and websites devoted to PTSD. A good place to start is the website of the National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s at www.ptsd.va.gov. It focuses on veterans and their families, but it has information that is useful to anyone. For more helpful sites and books, see “Resources” at the end of this article.

Listening is another way to understand—and to help. A person who has PTSD may want to talk about her traumatic experience a lot. As a friend or family member, you may feel like saying, “You need to stop reliving the past.” Instead, it is more helpful to recognize that person needs to share feelings—it helps him feel less alone. So be ready to listen. On one point, experts say, it does make sense to disagree. That is on the issue of guilt. When someone who has PTSD keeps blaming herself for whatever happened it is right to say “It wasn’t your fault.” And of course it is good to say, “You are not alone.”

Dealing with anger

At times, the symptoms of PTSD can lead to behaviors that can be threatening. If anger leads to violence, families need to get to a safe place and call for help. Even if anger doesn’t put you in danger, it can get in the way of communication and healing. The National Center for PTSD suggests setting up a “time-out” system that might work like this:

  • Agree that either of you can call a time-out at any time.
  • Agree that when someone calls a time-out, the discussion must stop right then.
  • Decide on a signal you will use to call a time-out. The signal can be a word that you say or a hand signal.
  • Agree to tell each other where you will be and what you will be doing during the time-out. Tell each other what time you will come back.
  • While you are taking a time-out, don't focus on how angry you feel. Instead, think calmly about how you will talk things over and solve the problem.
  • After you come back, take turns talking about solutions to the problem. Listen without interrupting.
  • Be open to each other's ideas. Don't criticize each other.
  • Focus on things you both think will work.
  • Together, agree which solutions you will use.

Take care of yourself and your family

The problems of a loved one who has PTSD can affect the family. Spouses and children can have guilt and shame, sadness, anger, fear, sleep problems and drug and alcohol problems when PTSD interrupts normal life and seems to go on without signs of improvement. Family therapy may be helpful, both for the person with PTSD and those around him.

Whether or not you go into therapy, if you care for a person with PTSD you need to care for yourself. Accept the fact (especially if you see little progress) that you are not in control. Don’t blame yourself if things don’t go according to your expectations. Don’t neglect your mental or physical health. Find time to be by yourself. Don’t give up on your outside life. Get regular exercise and eat healthy foods. And stay connected to people who can help you. These could be friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, people in your religious group, doctors or support groups. You want to have a network in place if you need help with everyday tasks or you need love and understanding.

Resources

On the Web:

The National Center for PTSD
www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/helping-family-member.asp

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Books:

When Someone You Love Suffers from Posttraumatic Stress by Claudia Zayfert and Jason C. DeViva. Guilford Press, 2011.

Once a Warrior Always a Warrior by Charles Hoge. Globe Pequot, 2010.

Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Guide for Families, 2nd ed., by Cheryl A. Roberts. McFarlane, 2011.

After the War Zone: A Practical Guide for Returning Troops and Their Families by Matthew J. Friedman and Laurie B. Slone. Da Capo Press, 2009.

Strategies for Managing Stress After War: Veteran’s Workbook and Guide to Wellness by Julia M. Whealin, Lorie T. DeCarvalho and Edward M. Vega. Wiley, 2008.

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD; National Institute of Mental Health; National Alliance on Mental Illness, "Expert Consensus Guidelines for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (adapted from J Clin Psychiatry, 1999:60, suppl 16).
Reviewed by Cynthia Scott, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

Close

  • Useful Tools

    Select a tool below

© 2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.