Witnessing a loved one trying to cope with trauma after an injury can be a heart-wrenching experience.  

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition that can make it difficult to recover and move forward after a wide range of injuries, including car wrecks, dog bites and attacks, slip and fall incidents, among others. 

Supporting someone with PTSD after an injury can be challenging, and you may not know where to start.  

Here are some ways you can help your loved one who is suffering from PTSD. 

What is PTSD?

To support your loved one who is experiencing PTSD, we recommend educating yourself about this condition and understanding what trauma is. 

Trauma refers to a wide range of experiences, including the actual traumatic event and the intense stress reactions that follow. Traumatic events are often characterized by horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of death. 

PTSD can result from traumatic experiences such as car crashes or dental injuries, triggering symptoms like anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and emotional numbness. 

In the United States, PTSD affects 3.6% of the adult population — about 9 million individuals. Among those diagnosed with PTSD, 37% have severe symptoms. 

What are the specific symptoms of PTSD?

Feeling anxious after a motor vehicle crash is common, but it may not necessarily be a sign of PTSD. The condition often causes more severe symptoms that can significantly impact a patient’s personal and professional life. People with PTSD may experience various changes in their cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral responses, such as difficulty focusing, substance abuse, and depression. Those with PTSD may experience long-lasting symptoms and chronic pain. 

In addition to experiencing agitation and losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, those with PTSD may also detach from others, struggle with hypersensitivity, and have intrusive thoughts. 

Understanding the symptoms and impact of PTSD is crucial to providing support to your loved one during their recovery process. 

How to Effectively Communicate With Your Loved One

It’s important to offer a listening ear when your loved one needs to talk about their PTSD. Let them know that you’re there for them and understand that their situation can be frustrating and confusing. Those with PTSD may isolate themselves and push people away, so make it clear that you’re not going anywhere. 

When discussing their trauma, avoid asking specific questions or pressing for details beyond what they are comfortable sharing. Instead, focus on actively listening and supporting them without judgment or pressure. Allowing the person to repeatedly discuss the distressing incident can be part of the healing process.

Be Aware of Your Loved One’s Daily Stress

Keep in mind that individuals with PTSD often live in a perpetual state of physical and mental stress, which can lead to overreactions to day-to-day events. Anger and aggression can serve as a mask for deeper emotions like loss or guilt. 

To support your loved one, reinforce safety and trust while avoiding pressuring them or making dismissive comments. Stay calm, be patient, and offer encouragement, always asking how you can support them and avoiding assumptions about what they need. Let them know that you are there for them and that they can rely on you. 

Understand PTSD Flashbacks and Triggers

Identifying triggers is important for individuals with PTSD, as certain smells, sounds, or physical sensations can serve as reminders of their traumatic experience. By taking steps to create a safe and comfortable environment that minimizes these triggers, you can help your loved one feel more at ease. 

Coping with PTSD can take time, and exposure to stressful situations like driving can cause intense stress and detachment from reality. Encourage slow breathing and avoid sudden movements to help ground them during a flashback. Remember that everyone experiences symptoms differently, and some may require therapy or additional support. 

Encourage Seeking Professional Help

If your loved one is experiencing PTSD symptoms, we recommend seeking professional help from a qualified therapist or counselor.  

Suppressing thoughts or feeling a lack of social support can worsen symptoms and cause feelings of fear, helplessness, and guilt. A therapist can teach techniques to help individuals process their emotions in a healthy way and overcome them.  

To find an experienced therapist in your loved one’s area, do some research and look for treatment centers that provide trauma treatment. Therapists who specialize in trauma have unique skill sets and approaches to therapy that can help individuals cope with their mental distress.  

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and cognitive processing therapy have shown the most promise for those with post-traumatic stress. Holistic practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can also be supplementary treatments. 

Remember, PTSD is real, and seeking medical attention is crucial for recovery.  

Show Support During Legal Proceedings

Personal injury proceedings can be overwhelming and stressful, especially for those who have experienced trauma. As a supportive friend or family member, there are several ways you can help your loved one navigate the legal process. 

Offer to accompany them to necessary legal proceedings to provide comfort during this potentially triggering experience, where they will have to reflect and recount their traumatic event. 

Encourage them to reach out to family and friends for emotional support and plan activities together, such as having dinner or going to a movie, to help distract them from their legal proceedings. 

You can also offer to go with them to doctor visits, and help keep track of medicine and therapy. These small gestures can make a big difference and show your loved one that they are not alone. 

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a loved one with PTSD can be emotionally demanding and can take a toll on your own mental and physical health. As a caregiver, you should prioritize self-care. 

One way to care for yourself is to schedule some time away from your loved one to relax and emotionally detoxify. Practicing self-care is not selfish but necessary to ensure that you can continue to provide the best possible support to your loved one. 

The Importance of Empathy, Understanding and Patience

Remember that recovering from PTSD is a complex process that takes time and may require seeking professional help. By educating yourself about the symptoms of PTSD, and offering your loved one support, you can help them get their life back to normal. 

The majority of the information for this article was sourced from The Mayo Clinic. Please consult with your doctor(s) before making any medical decisions.