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Mental Health Center

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Helping a Family Member Who Has PTSD - Topic Overview

When someone has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it changes family life. The person with PTSD may act differently and get angry easily. He or she may not want to do things you used to enjoy together.

You may feel scared and frustrated about the changes you see in your loved one. You also may feel angry about what's happening to your family, or wonder if things will ever go back to the way they were. These feelings and worries are common in people who have a family member with PTSD.

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It is important to learn about PTSD so you can understand why it happened, how it is treated, and what you can do to help. But you also need to take care of yourself. Changes in family life are stressful, and taking care of yourself will make it easier to cope.

How can I help?

You may feel helpless, but there are many things you can do. Nobody expects you to have all the answers.

Here are ways you can help:

  • Learn as much as you can about PTSD. Knowing how PTSD affects people may help you understand what your family member is going through. The more you know, the better you and your family can handle PTSD.
  • Offer to go to doctor visits with your family member. You can help keep track of medicine and therapy, and you can be there for support.
  • Tell your loved one you want to listen and that you also understand if he or she doesn't feel like talking.
  • Plan family activities together, like having dinner or going to a movie.
  • Take a walk, go for a bike ride, or do some other physical activity together. Exercise is important for health and helps clear your mind.
  • Encourage contact with family and close friends. A support system will help your family member get through difficult changes and stressful times.

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.

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