Written By: Becky Gonzalez, Military Spouse
June 27th is PTSD Awareness Day and it’s very important to educate and understand the significance of what PTSD is.
It’s more common than we think to know someone who has suffered from PTSD or to have suffered with it ourselves. It’s also likely that you have encountered individuals who may seem okay on the outside but it’s a whole different story on the inside. Today, we want to help educate those who want to learn more about what PTSD is, who can be affected and what you can do to help someone who may need extra support.
People suffering from PTSD may feel like they are a burden or just simply don’t understand the changes they are going through – mentally, physically and emotionally, and it’s our duty to support them and be proactive.
What is PTSD?
PTSD or posttraumatic stress disorder is a stress and trauma-related psychiatric disorder that may develop after a person experiences a life-threatening situation or exposure to a severely traumatic event. It is natural for a person to feel a sense of fear and not understand the changes in their body’s response to high stress and trauma. You may have heard the term, “fight or flight”, but what does that really mean in this context? Fight or flight is a typical and instinctive physiological response we all have when exposed to a threatening or stressful situation. Every person will experience a range of reactions, but someone suffering from PTSD has a heightened response and reaction even when they are no longer in danger.
How Common is PTSD?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives”.
The following statistics below are based on the U.S. population only:
- About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
- About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through trauma.
- About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%).
Who is Affected?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) doesn’t discriminate and can develop in any person at any age. We especially come across individuals and their families battling this illness within the military community. Whether it be our Veterans, Active Duty soldiers, Reservists, or National Guard members, the people affected goes beyond just those who are diagnosed. The friends, family and even co-workers of those diagnosed are also affected by PTSD. By keeping an open dialogue, education, and support from our communities, we can spread awareness and support those families in need.
Having an open conversation about a topic so personal can be perceived as taboo or uncomfortable to most, but mental health is very important and should never be disregarded. The stigma behind people seeking out assistance for mental health and admitting they need help should never be a reason to turn a blind eye or stay hush hush about PTSD.
Bad dreams, frighten thoughts, flashbacks of trauma, staying away from certain places, disconnecting from loved ones, being easily startled, feeling “on edge” or tense, not eating well, not sleeping well, angry outbursts, memory loss, negative thoughts about themselves or others, lack of social interest and/or hobbies.
What Can You Do?
Remember, not everyone suffering from PTSD show apparent symptoms. It can be your neighbor you see smiling every morning when leaving the house or your child who always tells you they are doing fine, or even your spouse who gives you a kiss goodnight and tells you constantly that they love you and appear to be happy. For those who do have symptoms or are diagnosed, it’s vital to speak with a medical professional.
Here are some tips on how to help someone with PTSD:
- Be a supporter/good listener: Don’t pressure them into talking about it. It can be difficult for them to talk about their traumatic experiences. Being a good listener goes beyond verbal communication. It can be by reading their body language and seeing when they may be uncomfortable and comforting them in the way they are most positively receptive.
- Build a line of communication and trust: Someone with PTSD has gone through many changes and can be on edge or feel threatened. Ensure you provide a judgment-free environment, create a planned routine with your loved one and keep your promises. Remember, never over-promise and be very straightforward and honest with them.
- Positive reinforcement: Point out their positive qualities and praise their success. They need to know they are being recognized and feel great about their accomplishments (no matter how big or small). Also, encourage them to get involved in support groups, or even surround themselves with others going through similar situations so they don’t feel alone.
- Recognize behavioral patterns and Triggers: It is very important to stay in tune of their mood changes and understand what may trigger a PTSD episode. Also, try and communicate with them what their triggers may be. Some common triggers (different for everyone) — sounds, smells, sight, physical interactions, weathers/seasons, relationships (can be specific people), life stressors (i.e. school, work, finances), funerals, hospitals, getting injured, strong internal emotions (feeling helpless, trapped), feeling hungry, lack of sleep, thirsty.
- Properly handle volatile episodes: People suffering from PTSD can take a heavy toll on loved ones and it’s important to try and remain as calm and levelheaded as possible when they go through a volatile episode. Try and give them space so they don’t feel cornered or threatened. Ask them how you can help them at that moment or get them out to a change in scenery. Most importantly, put safety first. Call 911 when needed or you fear your loved one may hurt themselves or others.
If you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD or needing further support, please reach out to a therapist or doctor for help or call toll-free to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) and press “1” if you are a Veteran or 911 in an emergency.
There are many resources that can be found at www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp. Know that you and your loved ones are never alone and it’s ok to ask for help.
For more information about PTSD, visit https://medlineplus.gov/posttraumaticstressdisorder.html or visit https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/index.asp