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Caretakers Guide to PTSD: Everything You Need to Know

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Dr. Laura Tanzini

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a psychological condition that affects a large portion of individuals throughout the United States. Though the symptoms may vary from person to person, it’s important to understand the basics of this illness in order to help not only yourself, but others who it may impact too.

PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder. In the past, PTSD has also been known as railway spine, shell shock, battle fatigue, and traumatic war neurosis. Typically, a diagnosis occurs following some sort of traumatic event. This event could be anything from witnessing a death or combat to a natural disaster or accident.

About 5% of men will experience a bout of PTSD at some point in their life, and more than 10% of women will. A recent study suggested that nearly 300,000 soldiers returning from the Afghanistan war will develop PTSD.

Common symptoms of PTSD include numbness, guilt, anger, insomnia, flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares, hopelessness, self-destruction, and shame. PTSD can last for days, weeks, or years, depending on its severity. Early intervention and treatment is the key to getting this devastating disorder under control. While there is no medication to reduce the symptoms of PTSD, counseling and therapy can be powerful in helping to ease the symptoms.

Things to Know About PTSD

PTSD is commonly associated with military veterans, but it can affect anyone. People who were exposed to trauma or those who are repeatedly exposed to trauma, like first responders, often develop PTSD. Traumatizing events can include natural disasters, domestic violence, sexual assault, accidents, acts of war, and any other event that is thought to be life-threatening. Unfortunately, anyone can experience one of these terrible and tragic events, which means anyone can be at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Here are some important things to know about PTSD:

Consequences If Left Untreated

There are, regrettably, many individuals who ignore their PTSD symptoms and instead choose to live with them. Often, people who ignore their PTSD become depressed or violent. They may find themselves in negative or abusive relationships or may turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of alleviating their symptoms, which can lead to substance abuse disorders and addiction. Living with PTSD can also result in diminished cognitive function and cause problems with learning, memory, concentration, and problem-solving. In the most severe cases, untreated PTSD can result in suicidal thoughts and ideation.

Treatment Is Available

Fortunately for those who have post-traumatic stress disorder, treatment is widely available if you seek it out. There are a number of different types of proven trauma recovery treatments for PTSD and many PTSD treatment facilities to choose from. Some types of treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and prolonged exposure therapy. Different facilities can offer different types of treatment. This best sort of treatment will also vary from person to person. Talk to your doctor to learn about all the options available and to determine which is right for you.

Tips for Taking Care of Someone with PTSD

If you know someone suffering from PTSD, it’s important to show your support. Here are some ways to do that:

Listen to Them

Learning to cope with a traumatic experience can be a very difficult process for someone who suffers from PTSD. It may take time before they are ready to speak about the event, and even then, it will be difficult. Rather than pushing the person to talk about the event, you should wait until they feel comfortable speaking about it. Part of the healing process will likely be talking about the event multiple times. You may be tempted to provide advice or tell them to get over it, but this is a mistake. It’s important to be empathetic and nonjudgmental when conversing about their experiences.

Offer Social Support

It’s common for those suffering from PTSD to withdraw from their loved ones. They could feel that nobody around them will understand the emotional state they are in or that they will be pitied and judged by others. Some may feel as though they would be a burden to their family and friends by sharing their experiences. The best way for those suffering from PTSD to recover from these incidents is to be surrounded by those who care about them. Offering social support and showing that you care about them will allow them to feel less isolated, which has been shown to impact the person suffering from a traumatic incident positively.

Create a Safe Surrounding

The traumatic event that causes PTSD may change the way in which the person suffering from the disorder sees the world. They may now feel that there is danger around every corner, which could cause them to stay home at all times. You can help someone with this by creating a structured schedule within a safe environment. Getting them to trust that there is no danger can be a long process but ultimately may result in them expanding where they are willing to go.

Plan for Triggers

There are a variety of things that could be triggers for the person, resulting in flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares. This can be a scary situation for the person who experienced the traumatic event and the person caring for them. If you can anticipate situations that may cause these re-experiencing symptoms, you should do your best to avoid them. If you can’t anticipate triggers, you should have a plan in place that will allow you to help relieve the symptoms. You may be able to do this by telling them they’re having a flashback or showing them that they are in a safe place.

Seek Professional Treatment

There are a variety of ways that PTSD can be treated, including talk therapy and medications. Every case of PTSD is different, so no two people will be treated the same way. A professional with experience treating PTSD patients will be able to properly diagnose your loved one and determine the best treatment. While the person suffering may be hesitant to seek professional help, encouraging them to do so will be in their best interest.

Navigating PTSD

Understanding that the person is suffering from PTSD, what the symptoms are, and how to help with those symptoms will allow that person to better cope with their condition. Contact Kinder in the Keys if you or someone you love needs the help of a PTSD treatment center.

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Author Bio

Dr. Laura Tanzini, DrPh, MA, MFT

Dr. Laura Tanzini is a highly educated and accomplished professional with a background in biology and psychology. She received a BS in Biology from UC Riverside, an MA in psychology from Phillips Graduate Institute, and a Doctorate in Public Health with a specialty in Lifestyle Medicine from Loma Linda University.

Dr. Laura Tanzini is a Board Certified Professional Counselor, Integrative Medicine Clinician, and PTSD Clinician. She has worked in multiple medical hospitals, mental health institutions, and inpatient eating disorder clinics. Also, Dr. Tanzini has written scholarly papers and spoken on various topics related to nutrition, stress, menopause, obesity, depression, anxiety, and human development.