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4 ways to support a loved one with PTSD

“My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth” (Psalm 121:2)

By now, most everyone has heard of PTSD or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Just to provide a little bit of context, here is a brief explanation of PTSD:

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (2013), those with PTSD have experienced a horrifying event that has resulted in them re-experiencing the trauma, avoiding reminders of the trauma, having negative thoughts and moods, and experiencing increased arousal (such as irritability or trouble with sleep) for more than a month. In order to receive this diagnosis, one must be assessed by a mental health professional and meet certain diagnostic criteria based on what is listed above.

You can learn more about PTSD at the National Center for PTSD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.5 percent of adults suffer from PTSD (2013). However, the National Center for PTSD states that twice that will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime (2014). For veterans, this number can increase significantly. For example, it is believed that among Vietnam veterans, 30 percent have PTSD (NCPTSD, 2014). As of yet, it is harder to pin down a number for those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it is believed to be anywhere from 11-20 percent. In addition to combat experiences, sexual assault can trigger PTSD, and approximately 23 percent of women report this experience during their military careers (NCPTSD, 2014). Men also experience sexual trauma while in the service and develop PTSD as a result.

Offering support and holding out hope

Supporting those with PTSD may not come easy. Those who are struggling with this difficult disorder may have a tough time with sleep. They may have a difficult time being in crowds. They may jump at the sound of firecrackers or a car backfiring. Things that most people consider enjoyable may lead to fear in those with PTSD—for example, going to the movie theatre, shopping at a mall or attending a sporting event.

It can be frustrating to have plans changed or cancelled, deal with someone who is irritable due to insomnia, or be awakened in the middle of the night because a loved one has had a nightmare, again. Sometimes, the symptoms of PTSD are even more severe and cause significant problems within relationships.

However, families can work together to cope with this disorder. One of the most important factors is the installation of hope. PTSD does not have to be something that the service member deals with forever. It does not have to be something that robs those with PTSD from having healthy relationships and joyful lives. There is hope for recovery and stability. And, having the family there for support, and possibly involvement in the PTSD therapy, may aid in the effectiveness of the treatment for the individual with PTSD (Monson, Macdonald, and Brown-Bowers, 2012).

Does someone you care about have PTSD? Here are some basic tips for supporting your suffering loved one:

  1. Let them know you are there for them, but give them space. Allow your loved one to take personal time outs so that they can work through some of their symptoms without taking anything out on the family. Don’t hover or constantly ask them to talk about their memories. Allow them to share what and when they want to share. If they want to share something with you that is too difficult for you to hear, gently tell them that you want them to be able to talk about their memories but suggest they share those with their mental health professional.  
  2. Learn to be flexible. If they are willing to try shopping, for example, be willing to leave when your loved one is ready to or drive separate cars and allow them to leave when they are ready. Don’t force your loved one to continue with the status quo as if nothing has changed. They may no longer like crowds or fireworks or large family gatherings. Your patience and understanding will mean a lot. And, remember, this doesn’t mean they will never want to go to the movies again. Just perhaps not right now.
  3. Participate in their mental health treatment. Understand what treatment your loved one is going through, and be available to help your loved one in any way you can. For example, help ensure that they have quiet and private space to complete practice assignments at home. Also, know the treatment plan and attend sessions if and when asked. It may also be helpful for you to participate in a support group for those whose loved ones have PTSD (Many Vet Centers offer these.).
  4. Pray. John Bunyan said, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” As Christians, we must pray. We must pray for those that are suffering, for those that love them, and for their relationships. Above all, we should offer those that are suffering the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ. He tells us clearly in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world. However, many forget the first part of that verse, which includes this promise: “in me, you may have peace.” This peace through Christ is what can sustain a loved one during the trial and recovery of PTSD.

Taking the journey with someone who has PTSD is not easy, but support is not only important, it may also be essential to a loved one’s recovery.


Medical University of South Carolina (2009). Retrieved from

Monson, C., Macdonald, A., & Brown-Bowers, A. (2012). Couple/family therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: Review to facilitate interpretation of VA/DOD clinical practice guidelines. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 49(5), 717-728.

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