If you are a spouse, friend or family member of someone that you suspect may have PTSD, what can you do to help?
- Become educated! Two helpful websites are the National Institute of Mental Health and the Mayo Clinic websites. (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/ and www.mayoclinic.com) Also the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has a good website and in some communities provides a support group for families. The telephone number for NAMI is 800-950-6264. Their website is www.nami.org/.
- Take care of yourself! Don’t take responsibility for any difficult behavior the person with PTSD may display. Don’t take that person’s anger that is a part of the PTSD personally. Get help for yourself if you need to.
- Be a good listener! Listening means engaging with that other person in a non-critical manner and not just waiting for your turn to talk or thinking about what you are going to say next—or planning supper, etc. This requires some patience but can be a very healing thing. As a nurse in mental health we called this “therapeutic listening” and it is very important.
- Encourage the person with PTSD to seek appropriate treatment and if they do, support that treatment. If the person with PTSD refuses to seek treatment, continue to encourage but not “nag” (think encourage but in a negative way). I have tried nagging myself and have never found it to be very productive. Mostly I just cause frustration for myself and then there is a tendency to direct that frustration at others inappropriately. Remember each person is responsible for their own attitudes, actions and feelings. And see #2.
However, if you know or suspect that the person with PTSD is thinking about harming themselves or someone else, this is an emergency and you must do whatever is necessary to get the person help, including contacting 911.
Some signs that a person may be feeling suicidal are:
- Giving away cherished belongings. Getting their “affairs in order” with no logical reason.
- A sudden lifting of depression. Although this may seem like a good sign this can reflect a person’s relief that they have a plan to end their pain.
- Talking about suicide or expressing hopelessness or helplessness or wishing that they were dead. Sometimes people believe that if a person talks about suicide, they will not do it BUT this is absolutely NOT true.
- Risky or destructive behavior.
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
- Stockpiling medication or acquiring a weapon.
- Withdrawing from social contact.
- Preoccupation with death and dying.
- Increased alcohol or drug use.
- Increased mood swings or a sudden personality change.
- Expressing feelings of worthlessness, guilt or shame.
Not every suicidal person displays the same symptoms or any symptoms at all. Males are more likely to use a lethally certain method for suicide. However, each person is different. Don’t take a chance with someone’s life. Asking about or talking about suicide will NOT “put the idea in their head” but may save their life. Try to remain calm and non-judgmental when talking to a suicidal person. Again, listening is very important.Some other useful phone numbers/websites are:
*Veteran’s Crisis Line—–800-273-8255 Press 1 for the Veteran’s Crisis Line (This number is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). The website is www.veteranscrisisline.net/.
Now a note from my heart. If you believe you may be suffering from PTSD, please get help. I have heard and read that some people that are still active military are concerned that a diagnosis of PTSD will negatively affect their career. That is why I have included some nonmilitary resources. I sincerely hope that this concern will not prevent you from getting any help that you need. You have served your country and your fellow citizens well and you deserve the best quality of life possible.