How to Help Someone with PTSD

June 1, 2022

Nue Life

Nue Life
This article was medically reviewed by Lynn Marie Morski, MD, JD

Top points

  • PTSD is a mental health condition affecting approximately 8 million adults worldwide in any given year.
  • PTSD is caused by traumatic events or situations.
  • Being an active listener without judgment and understanding their triggers are important first steps to supporting someone who is struggling with PTSD.
  • PTSD and C-PTSD are serious mental health conditions that should be treated by a professional.

Do you have a loved one who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder? Watching someone you care about struggle with PTSD can be difficult. Read on to learn how you can help someone with PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that is caused by traumatic events or situations. With upwards of eight million adults across the globe suffering from PTSD during any given year, it’s not an uncommon challenge. Unfortunately, for some people, this can be a debilitating issue that directly affects their daily life, causing strain on their relationships, workplace performance, and daily tasks.

PTSD can be very challenging for those living with it. This is why anyone going through it needs a solid support system. Having social support such as understanding friends and family can make it much easier for anyone with this condition to overcome it.

Now that you know what it is and how hard it can be, let’s dive into the specifics.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD can be caused by an assortment of things but is typically linked back to one specific event or situation. The event could be something that physically happened, something a person saw, or even something someone heard that sent their nervous system into overdrive. Here are a few examples:

  • Time spent in combat in the military
  • Car accidents
  • Plane crashes
  • Shootings
  • Violent attacks like kidnapping, sexual assault, torture, being mugged
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes

How Are PTSD and C-PTSD Different?

It is important to note that while PTSD may be more common, it is possible that your loved one is suffering from C-PTSD. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of PTSD that can develop in someone who has experienced recurring traumatic experiences or events. These events could include:

  • The trauma brought on by a parent or guardian
  • Staying in touch with a previous abuser
  • Being in the military for an extended time

PTSD is different from C-PTSD in that it only takes one traumatic experience to develop PTSD. C-PTSD requires multiple occurrences to develop.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of PTSD?

If you want to support someone with their struggles with PTSD, it is critical to be able to recognize when they are experiencing symptoms of it.

Symptoms of PTSD can be intense. Here are a few symptoms you should be on the lookout for:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks of the trauma
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety and negative thoughts
  • Overly suspicious and hypervigilant of people and situations
  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling consistent tension
  • Intense memories of the trauma
  • Apathy towards things they once enjoyed
  • Irrational anger and aggression
  • Suicidal thoughts and tendencies

What About C-PTSD?

For complex PTSD, the symptoms are often the same or very similar. Those who have C-PTSD often experience flashbacks, feelings of shame and guilt, difficulty maintaining relationships, dissociation from reality, trouble regulating their emotions, insecurities, stomachaches, headaches, and other varying symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD can look very similar to each other and to the symptoms of other mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, and substance abuse. It is always best to seek a medical diagnosis before jumping to conclusions.  

How Can I Support Someone Who Has PTSD?

Now that you understand the basics of what PTSD is, what can cause it, and what symptoms it can bring, it’s time to start thinking about how you can help your loved one who has it.

It won’t be easy, but anyone going through mental health issues needs the ones they love more than ever. Here is how you can help support someone who has PTSD.

Be an Active Listener

Active listening is critical for someone struggling with any form of PTSD. Part of their issues often revolves around neglect or fear of isolation. Practice being a good listener with these helpful tips:

  • Don’t interrupt them while they are speaking
  • Let them be mad or upset about what has happened to them
  • Listen to what they have to say instead of planning out what to say next
  • Make eye contact
  • Verbally or visually respond to show you are engaged  
  • There is often no need to suggest solutions or opinions unless they ask
  • Keep the conversation going by asking questions

Don’t Judge

Insecurity is something that often manifests itself when mental health conditions are present. It is crucial for anyone battling any mental health condition to have a safe place to go. And as a loved one, you can be that safe place. Make sure that they know that they can come to you with any problem, thought, emotion, or struggle without being judged, looked down upon, or thought less of.

Watch for Warning Signs

Just like with most diseases, PTSD does have warning signs like those in the list of symptoms above.

If you know that your friend is struggling with this disorder, commit the list of symptoms to memory so that you can watch for them. Being able to recognize the warning signs that they are struggling with will allow you to take necessary measures to help them through it.

Give Them Space When Needed

Unless you have experienced PTSD yourself, it may be very difficult for you to understand how it feels to be struggling with it.

One main struggle that PTSD causes is the feeling of tension, stress, and anxiety. A person experiencing these things is often easily startled, overwhelmed, and on edge — for this reason, it is important to give them space when they need it.

You can give them space by keeping physical touch to a minimum, and only after asking if touch is desired. Allow a fair amount of space between you and them, and always make your presence known to them when entering a room.

Perhaps the most important part is to learn to recognize when they need this kind of space. Being able to do this without being told will go a long way.

Become Familiar With Their Triggers

Triggers are things that lead to a reoccurrence of PTSD symptoms. Triggers are specific to each person who deals with this illness. It could be generic loud noises, a specific sound, a specific sequence of events, a place, a person, or an assortment of other things.

Knowing what their triggers are will allow you to help them avoid them. So, don’t be afraid to ask them what their triggers are, if they are willing to share. For example, if it is a place, you will know to never drive past it in their presence. If a trigger is unavoidable, knowing it can help you soothe your friend when it appears. If the trigger is a person, you will know that being around them may be difficult for your friend, and you will be able to react to the situation accordingly.

Help Them Plan Ahead

Because PTSD can be a crippling mental illness, people who struggle with it often have difficulty planning ahead. As you know, life can be tough sometimes, and taking care of tough situations can be incredibly challenging for someone dealing with this illness. Help them plan ahead and get what they need to get done so you can shield them from being overwhelmed.

Help Them Find Professional Help

This is perhaps one of the most important things you can do for them. As a friend or family member, your help is critical, but it can only go so far. To experience real treatment and relief from PTSD, a loved one dealing with it will need a health professional.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), antidepressants, and other treatment options are available, but it can be difficult to determine which approach is best for their needs.

Ketamine therapy is an option that can help those struggling by building new neural pathways that can help alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD long-term. This is especially crucial for C-PTSD patients as their exposure to repeated trauma may have led to long-standing patterns in the brain that ketamine may be able to adjust.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

Be sure that you don’t neglect yourself while spending all of this time and energy on your loved one. You aren’t going to be any good for them if you aren’t healthy. So, work on your self-care too. And know that if you don’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to properly support your loved one at a certain time – it’s ok. If the patient has a network of professionals to help support them, then you can help guide them to one of the other supporters at that time.

The Bottom Line

Supporting someone with PTSD can be challenging. It takes patience, understanding, and dedication.

Trying to understand PTSD, getting to know your loved one’s triggers and warning signs, listening to what they need from you, and encouraging them to seek professional PTSD treatment are all a great start.

Treatment at Nue Life

Nue Life believes in holistic treatment, meaning that what happens after your ketamine experience is equally as important as the experience itself. We want to ensure you have meaningful takeaways from your experiences and help you establish positive new neural pathways.

That’s why we provide one-on-one health coaching and integration group sessions with our programs. We’re here to help map out the mind and body connections in your brain and help you discover the real insights that lead to real relief.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | NCCIH

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | Cedars-Sinai

Complex PTSD | Health Assured

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