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Understanding is the First Step in Caring for PTSD

June 27, 2019

If someone shares with you that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are you quick to make assumptions about that person? PTSD is not a fad or a phase of life, it’s a serious psychiatric disorder that follows exposure to a traumatic event.

As a response to trauma, people with PTSD commonly experience helplessness, fear, and distressing beliefs about themselves and the world around them.

In support of National PTSD Awareness Day, June 27, Stephanie Ferroni, APN, of Voorhees Behavioral Health, shares how you can better understand the disorder to be more supportive of loved ones, friends, and people you meet for the first time.

Causes of PTSD can vary greatly. Generally, someone either witnessed or was involved in a serious threat to their wellbeing and/or the wellbeing of others. Circumstances may include natural disasters, combat, rape, violent assault, childhood abuse, or incarceration.

“First responders, such as EMTs and police officers, are actually at a higher likelihood to develop PTSD from that repeat exposure to morbidity and tragedy,” explained Ferroni. “It’s also possible to develop PTSD indirectly, through learning about a violent event of death of a close relative or friend.”

If you think you or a loved one may be struggling with PTSD, but are unsure, the American Psychiatric Association’s TRAUMA mnemonic (as reiterated by Ferroni) may help you recognize the symptoms.

T: the traumatic event itself

R: re-experiencing the traumatic event through unwanted thoughts, memories, nightmares, or flashbacks

A: avoiding social atmospheres and distancing from loved ones and unfamiliar, dangerous people. Avoidance may be coupled with a lack of motivation, loss of interest in work and hobbies, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts.

U: being unable to function due to these symptoms

M: symptoms must last more than a month to be considered PTSD

A: increased arousal, causing hypervigilance, exaggerated fears, poor concentration, irritability or anger, insomnia, poor concentration, and/or a feeling of “going crazy.”

Studies show that one of the most common and effective treatments for PTSD is prolonged exposure (PE). PE aids in processing and organizing memories, realizing they are no longer dangerous, decreasing anxiety, and reducing overall symptoms. PE should first be discussed with a medical professional, before trying it at home.

“If you’re watching a horror movie and it gives you anxiety, you may try avoiding a particular scene the next time it comes on by playing with your phone,” explained Ferroni. “However, this will allow the scene to continuously evoke the same level of anxiety. Instead, if you closely watch it over and over again, you will naturally habituate to the situation. It will no longer be scary. Exposure to traumatic memories works the same way.”

While professional treatment is important, support from others is equally as important. It can be difficult to not worsen the symptoms of someone with PTSD, but there are many ways to communicate properly, and help them heal.

  • Understand the disorder to the best of your abilities, so you can create a sense of safety, and anticipate triggers (things in the environment that can act as reminders of the trauma).
  • Listen without judgement or disapproval.
  • Resist the urge to give unsolicited advice or push them to talk.
  • Be patient. As part of their healing process, they may excessively talk about the traumatic incident. Don’t tell them to “get over it,” or that “it could have been worse.”
  • Love from others is one of the most important factors in recovery. It’s common for sufferers to distance themselves, but you should respect their boundaries, while not allowing them to isolate themselves completely.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help and attend support groups.

Before you judge someone for what they’ve gone through, always stop and think how you would feel if the roles were reversed. Being unsupportive of anyone with any mental illness can be incredibly detrimental to their recovery.

To learn more about Behavioral & Mental Health Services at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE or call 844-542-2273.