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How to Recognize PTSD in a Loved One, Family Member, or Friend

June is National PTSD Awareness Month. The most common form of PTSD we hear about is combat-related PTSD. However, PTSD can result from any traumatic event. Roughly four percent of men and 10 percent of women suffer from some form of PTSD. Someone who has PTSD is more likely to commit suicide than not. In fact, PTSD increases the risk of death by suicide. 

You might know someone who is struggling with PTSD without knowing it. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of PTSD and know how to support someone dealing with PTSD. In honor of National PTSD Awareness Month, we have created a quick reference sheet to help you understand PTSD and, more importantly, what you can do to help.  

What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that results from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as combat, natural disaster, car accidents, sexual assaults, abuse, and much more. Many people who have PTSD might not know they have it or that they are experiencing PTSD. People who have gone through a traumatic event might not experience PTSD right away; it can set in months or years later. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may have PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can manifest in a variety of ways. The only way to truly know whether you or a loved one has PTSD is by speaking to a licensed physician or therapist. The most common symptoms of PTSD include the following:

  • Recurring thoughts or dreams about the traumatic event 
  • Feelings of fear, anger, or stress
  • Feelings of constant alertness or needing to be “on guard”
  • Avoiding activities that remind you or trigger your trauma

It is important to remember that you are not alone; PTSD is a natural reaction to trauma. Acknowledging that a traumatic event has affected your life is not a weakness. Seeking help from a licensed therapist or psychologist is the first step to reclaiming life after trauma. 

Who Is at Risk for PTSD?

Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can develop PTSD; it does not care about age, gender, or level of traumatic exposure. Those who have suffered from the following traumas may experience PTSD and should seek out a licensed therapist or psychologist:

  • Veterans and combat survivors
  • Domestic abuse survivors
  • Sexual assault survivors
  • Interpersonal violence survivors
  • Natural disaster and terrorism survivors

What Does a PTSD-Related Episode Look Like?

A PTSD episode can manifest in any way and can occur at any time. A PTSD episode can look like fear, anger, mood swings, or it can look like:

  • Vivid flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Intense distress
  • Nausea, sweating, or pain
  • Dissociation

 An episode can be fairly mild, or it can devolve into an intense, scary situation. 

How to Help Someone Who Has PTSD

If your family, friend, or loved one is suffering from a PTSD-related episode, there are some steps you can take to help them.

  • Remain calm

It is vital to maintain a safe space for your friend, family member, or loved one.

  • Provide emotional support

You can provide emotional support to someone struggling with PTSD by encouraging them to seek treatment, educating yourself on PTSD, listening to what they’re saying without interjecting or offering advice, and taking care of your mental health throughout the process.

  • Provide social support

Don’t treat your friend, family member, or loved one differently because of what they’re going through. Encourage them to seek out activities that they love, invite them to do things, and let them lead the way.

About Emergency Help

In an extreme PTSD episode, call 911 and contact the therapist or doctor that your loved one, family member, or friend is seeing. Continue to maintain a calm demeanor and a safe space. If possible, take further direction from the therapist or doctor. 

If you live in the Eagle River Valley and are experiencing a behavioral health crisis, call the Hope Line at (970) 306-4673. The line is staffed 24/7 with licensed clinicians and peers experienced in helping you or your loved one through a PTSD episode. 

Therapy and Support Groups Can Help

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, there are therapies and treatments available to help you or your loved one understand and cope with PTSD. There are therapists who specialize in PTSD and support groups to help you manage PTSD and return to a more normal life. 

If you’re interested in one-on-one therapy, finding a therapist that works for you is the first step.

Civilians

Civilians can contact their primary care doctor for a therapist recommendation or seek recommendations from friends or family. If you’d rather look for a therapist on your own, you can search for a therapist on the internet. If you search for a therapist online, there are important things to consider when choosing the right therapist for you.

  • Does the provider specialize in PTSD?

Look for a provider that specializes in evidence-based medications for PTSD. Common types of evidence-based therapies include Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure or Eye Movement, Desensitization, and Reprocessing.

  • Does your insurance cover the therapist?

Out-of-pocket expenses can add up quickly and cause additional stress during your therapy and healing process. Look for a therapist that is covered by your insurance. Many insurance companies offer a directory on their websites or members’ portals to help their members find in-network providers.

Eagle Valley Behavioral Health offers financial assistance for mental health services to Eagle County residents. Olivia’s Fund is designed to assist Eagle County residents with costs associated with mental health and substance abuse services. Complete your application today to see if you qualify for financial assistance. 

  • Keep trying

It is rare to find a therapist that works for you on your first go. It is not unusual to try out multiple therapists before finding someone you feel comfortable opening up to.

  • Give it time

It can be terrifying, tiring, and frustrating to get treatment for PTSD. It may take a few months to fully open up to your therapist and start treating the root of your PTSD. Most people don’t feel truly comfortable with their therapists until two or three months into regular sessions. Commit to the process, and you’ll be well on your way to treating your PTSD.

Veterans

If you’re a veteran, help is available through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Eagle County Veterans can also choose to utilize local resources. The VA is an excellent place for veterans to seek help for PTSD because the therapists and doctors at the VA are familiar with combat-related PTSD and are uniquely situated to help you through combat-related trauma. 

Friends, Family Members, and Loved Ones

Supporters of a loved one with PTSD can also seek help. It is not easy supporting a loved one or family member through PTSD treatment. 

  • One-on-one therapy

Use the above criteria to find a therapist to speak with. A therapist specializing in PTSD is better suited to help you through the challenging role of caring for someone with PTSD.

  • Try out support groups

Support groups are a great way to talk with people who are going through a similar situation. It is often helpful to seek encouragement and emotional support from people outside your immediate circle who are going through the same thing you are.

  • Crisis Lines

Supporting someone through a PTSD diagnosis and subsequent treatment can be overwhelming. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are various crisis lines available such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Veterans Crisis Line. Both of these crisis lines are available to anyone supporting someone through a challenging process.

Local help is available now: Call (970) 306-4673 to speak with a licensed mental health provider at the Hope Center of the Eagle River Valley or call (844) 943-8255 to speak with a provider at the CO Crisis Center. The lines are staffed 24/7 with licensed mental health clinicians and peers. 

Seeking help for yourself is the best way to support your friend, family member, or loved one dealing with PTSD. When you are mentally healthy, you can provide the best support possible to someone in need.

Additional Help and Resources Available

Please remember that PTSD is shockingly common and can manifest in many different ways. Everyone who suffers from PTSD experiences it differently. If your friend or a family member has PTSD, you can learn more about how to help them and the resources available through Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. Learning how to help someone cope with PTSD takes time, just starting is the first step.

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