Post-traumatic stress disorder is a commonality in active duty servicemen and veterans in the United States. In fact, about 500,000 U.S. troops who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with PTSD. Veterans with PTSD may experience flashbacks to painful memories, emotional distress and other symptoms around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Here are five ways to be supportive of a veteran with PTSD.
1. Listen By Giving Your Full Attention
When a veteran who has PTSD tells you how they’re doing, focus on actively listening to what they’re expressing rather than giving your advice. This means putting away any distractions, looking at them directly and asking them questions about how they are feeling presently.
Oftentimes, people feel like they have to do something or go out of their way to show their support, when simply listening is actually the most important and helpful way to show someone you care. By listening, you make them feel heard, seen and supported, which will make their healing process easier.
2. Educate Yourself with PTSD Resources
What are the common symptoms of PTSD in veterans? What are the PTSD treatment options? Can someone have PTSD for years? There are dozens of PTSD resources, such as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, that you can use to answer these questions and more. Being better educated on the mental disorder can help you be a better supporter.
3. Help Them Build Social Support
When a veteran experiences PTSD symptoms, it can oftentimes feel overwhelmingly isolating. Encourage them brainstorm ideas on how to get involved within their peers. Whether it be joining a peer counseling group, where they can connect with other veterans who have experienced trauma, or volunteering at an animal shelter, building one-on-one connection with others can make them feel part of the community.
4. Respect Their Privacy and Healing Journey
Every veteran who has PTSD processes it in a different way. What helps one person may not help another, and vice versa.
To be supportive, understand their healing journey is unique to them. Gently encourage them not to give up on their journey to heal. If you notice they begin to close up or get defensive, do not force your ideas upon them, as this may cause them to shut down completely. This is their healing journey, and if you are fortunate enough to be allowed to be a part of it, sometimes the best you can do is remember that you are not in control of this journey and be mindful of that.
5. Be Continuously Supportive
A person’s healing process is a journey, and it can be a long one. Even when someone goes to therapy and has a healthy support system, it’s normal to have moments of immense happiness, moments of difficulty and so on.
That’s why it’s important to be continuously supportive throughout their healing journey, even when they appear to be doing okay. Stand by their side, and show them you care about them and their wellbeing.
If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma or PTSD, please remember that you are not alone. Mental health professionals, support groups and self-help tools, like the Mira app, are here to help you. For more information on PTSD and trauma, read our blog!