Here are ways you can support a loved one with PTSD:
For more tips, read Helping a Friend or Loved One Deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Your family member may not want your help. If this happens, keep in mind that withdrawal can be a symptom of PTSD. A person who withdraws may not feel like talking, taking part in group activities, or being around other people. Give your loved one space, but tell him or her that you will always be ready to help.
Your family member may feel angry about many things. Anger is a normal reaction to trauma, but it can hurt relationships and make it hard to think clearly. Anger also can be frightening.
If anger leads to violent behavior or abuse, it's dangerous. Go to a safe place and call for help right away. Make sure children are in a safe place as well.
It's hard to talk to someone who is angry. One thing you can do is set up a time-out system. This helps you find a way to talk even while angry. Here's one way to do this.
While you are taking a time-out, don't focus on how angry you feel. Instead, think calmly about how you will talk things over and solve the problem.
You and your family may have trouble talking about feelings, worries, and everyday problems. Here are some ways to communicate better:
If your family is having a lot of trouble talking things over, consider trying family therapy. Family therapy is a type of counseling that involves your whole family. A therapist helps you and your family communicate, maintain good relationships, and cope with tough emotions.
During therapy, each person can talk about how a problem is affecting the family. Family therapy can help family members understand and cope with PTSD.
Your health professional or a religious or social services organization can help you find a family therapist who specializes in PTSD.
Helping a person with PTSD can be hard on you. You may have your own feelings of fear and anger about the trauma. You may feel guilty because you wish your family member would just forget his or her problems and get on with life. You may feel confused or frustrated because your loved one has changed, and you may worry that your family life will never get back to normal.
All of this can drain you. It can affect your health and make it hard for you to help your loved one. If you're not careful, you may get sick yourself, become depressed, or burn out and stop helping your loved one.
To help yourself, you need to take care of yourself and have other people help you.
During difficult times, it is important to have people in your life who you can depend on. These people are your support network. They can help you with everyday jobs, like taking a child to school, or by giving you love and understanding.
You may get support from:
When someone you care about has PTSD, it affects you too. You are probably spending time and energy to help your loved one cope. Even if your partner, family member, or friend with PTSD is getting treatment and getting better, you may still feel drained, worried, or even frustrated. You need support at the same time you are giving support.
Learning about PTSD helps you to understand what your loved one is experiencing. But, you need to take care of yourself too. Your own support network - family, friends, and health providers - is a good place to start, but don't be afraid to reach out beyond that close circle. Here are some resources that can help.
You may feel helpless, but there are many things you can do. Nobody expects you to have all the answers. If you feel there is a crisis for you or your loved one, use one of these toll-free, confidential hotlines:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour hotline for anyone in emotional distress: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also an online Lifeline Chat available from 5 pm to 1 am EST, weekdays.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with VA responders through a 24/7 hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), PRESS 1. There is also a 24/7 online Confidential Veterans Chat or text message support at 838255.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 anonymous access to shelters and domestic violence programs as well as legal advocacy, public education, and training: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
The National Sexual Assault Hotline operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is a 24/7 resource to link victims to counseling and legal advice: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). There is also a National Sexual Assault Online Hotline for messaging.
The National Child Abuse Hotline is a 24/7 resource you can contact if you suspect a child is being abused, if you fear you might hurt your child, or if you have been abused: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453).
Family members and close friends sometimes neglect their own needs when they commit themselves to caring for someone with PTSD. It is important for you to find support for yourself when you are helping someone deal with PTSD.
Most US States have a National 211 referral line that connects people with important community services (employment, food pantries, housing, support groups, etc.). Dial 2-1-1.
The SIDRAN Institute is a nonprofit organization that helps people understand, recover from, and treat traumatic stress and offers a referral list of therapists for PTSD. You can contact the Help Desk via email or by leaving a confidential voicemail: 1-410-825-8888.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a Family-to-Family Education Program for caregivers of people with severe mental illness. You can also email or call the Information Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
You can find more resources on our Web Links: Families page.
Some of the resources listed above are specific to Veterans and Service Members. Additional resources are listed below:
The VA Caregiver Support program provides services to support family members who are taking care of a Veteran: 1-855-260-3274
VA's Coaching Into Care program helps family and friends of returning Veterans find the right words to help their loved one get into care. For free, confidential coaching email or call: 1-888-823-7458
The Vet Center Combat Call Center is a 24/7 call center for combat Veterans and their families to talk about their military experience or issues about readjustment to civilian life: 1-877-WAR-VETS
The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) 24/7 Outreach Center offers information and consultation in mental health and traumatic brain injury: 1-866-966-1020. DCoE also offers email and online chat support.
The National Resource Directory links to over 10,000 services and resources that support recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration for wounded, ill, and injured Service Members, Veterans, their families, and those who support them.
Give an Hour is a nonprofit organization offering free mental health services to US military personnel and their families affected by Iraq and Afghanistan.
You can find more resources on our Web Links page for Families, Military Resources, and Veterans Service Organizations.
Children respond to their parents' PTSD symptoms. A child may behave like the parent to try to connect with him or her. Some children take on an adult role to fill in for the parent with PTSD. If children do not get help with their feelings, it can lead to problems at school, in relationships, or with emotions (like worry, fear, or sadness).
MilitaryKidsConnect (MKC) is an online community for military children (age 6-17) with resources for children to give support before, during, and after a parent's or caregiver's deployment.
Sesame Street offers a Talk, Listen, Connect parent toolkit to help military families coping with deployment.
It is important children know that a parent's PTSD symptoms are not their fault. An interactive workbook for teens may help: "Finding My Way: A Teen's Guide to Living with a Parent Who has Experienced Trauma"
You can find more resources on our Web Links: Children and Teens page.
If your family is having a lot of trouble talking things over, consider trying family therapy. Family therapy is a type of counseling that involves your whole family. It is important that each member of the family, including the children, have a chance to say what they need. A therapist helps you and your family communicate, maintain good relationships, and cope with tough emotions. Your health professional or a religious or social services organization can help you find a family therapist who specializes in PTSD. Remember, caregivers need care too. Whether you turn to your family, friends, health care providers, or the resources listed here, be sure to get the help you need. To help yourself, you need to take care of yourself and have other people help you.