If you have a friend with post-traumatic stress disorder, you can help them access help to support their journey towards healing. These five tips will help you be a supportive friend to your friends with PTSD.
1. Take an Active Role
People who have post-traumatic stress disorder often feel they’ve lost control of their emotions, reactions, and lives. They may often struggle to reach out or take initiative in their own healing process because they don’t know where to start.
Offer to take your friend to refill prescriptions when they’re mentally struggling, attend regular checkups, and see a therapist. Embracing an active role in your friend’s recovery will empower them to and seek out assistance if they haven’t already done so.
2. Repair the Rift
Maybe your friend is struggling to rejoin the world after their traumatic experience. To protect themselves, they may stay home, avoid people, and decline invites — even from friends and family. These avoidance tactics can make them feel alone, which may exacerbate their PTSD symptoms.
Encourage your friend to reconnect with loved ones and repair the rifts in their relationships. Eventually, they’ll feel comfortable enough to meet with friends in public again and mend broken relationships.
3. Practice Patience
Sometimes, your friend will tell you what sets them off. However, those with post-traumatic stress disorder might not be fully aware of their triggers. In this case, you may accidentally say or do something that spurs on traumatic flashbacks or incites a particularly strong reaction. People with PTSD often have an exaggerated startle response, which can strain your relationship, especially if it happens repeatedly.
Try to be patient as you work to understand and avoid your friend’s triggers. If they need a few minutes to collect themselves, give them the space that they need. Your friend might have trouble trusting people, including you, after what happened to them, so take your relationship slowly, and pay attention. Relationships are a two-way street, and your friendship with your friend with PTSD is no exception.
4. Spread Awareness
Roughly 15 million US adults have PTSD, but they still face the stigma surrounding mental illness. Those who feel that others’ judgment is too much will often choose to stay silent. On the other hand, people who feel safe with their friends and families will be more likely to open up and ask for help.
Alleviate the pressure that your friend may feel, and advocate for mental health. Raise awareness of conditions like PTSD and start conversations about it within your own community. Learning about PTSD will help your friend feel more comfortable around you and others. Plus, it’ll allow you to develop a deeper sense of empathy, which will ultimately benefit your relationship in the long run.
5. Be Vulnerable
Many people keep their trauma secret and struggle in silence because of the stigma surrounding PTSD and other mental health conditions. They may be afraid of how their loved ones might react if they open up or seek help. Even broaching the topic of mental health might make them feel incredibly vulnerable.
Regardless of whether these dreams are founded, they can keep your friend from reaching out. That’s why it’s important to be vulnerable yourself. If you want your friend to trust you, you must first trust them with your secrets, trauma, and life story. Doing so will create space for your friend to share too.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, which is why you must prioritize your mental health above all else. Whether you have your own trauma to deal with or emotions that may need sorting out, remember to take time for yourself, even if that means spending time away from your friend. Odds are you’ll return to the relationship feeling stable and at peace, which will ultimately allow you to be a better support system for your friend with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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