Many people, at some point in their lives, will experience a stressful or traumatic event which can affect their normal behavior – for a time they may feel more stressed, angry or sad. These short term changes are common.
But longer-term, specific changes in behavior, particularly following a trauma or multiple traumas, could be a sign that a person is developing, or has developed PTSD. These symptoms may manifest themselves over a short time, or over months, years or even decades.
Some of the common symptoms of PTSD are:
- Hypervigilance (On constant ‘red alert’)
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. Pounding heart, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
- Irrational and intense fear
- Panic attacks/anxiety/depression/mood swings
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
- Anger or aggressive behaviour
- Loss of interest in activities and life in general
- Frequent periods of withdrawal into oneself
- Flashbacks (Acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
- Misuse of alcohol/drugs/gambling and/or food
- Over-reactions to minor situations
What can I do to help?
If you think your partner may have PTSD, its important to let them know you care and are there to listen when they are ready to talk. Broach the subject if you can, but without judgment. Often, those with PTSD may feel numb and distant from others. Relationship problems can develop as they are irritable, on guard, jumpy, worried, or nervous. They may also feel an increased need to protect their loved ones and so come across as tense or demanding. Try to understand how they may be feeling as much as possible.
The changes in you loved one, and the relationship you have, can understandably make you worried, and even perhaps angry, frustrated or hurt, so it’s important that you are patient with your loved one, and deal with this together – they may not have PTSD, but just need more time to process a trauma they went through. If they have PTSD, try to understand that they can’t ‘get over it’ or just ‘forget it happened’ – they are not choosing to relive the experience, or let it affect their life – they too will be equally frustrated and angry, and scared.
Take any conversations at their pace, and gently encourage them to help themselves by staying active, eating well and doing things they enjoy. Gather all the information you can about PTSD, educate yourself on what the symptoms are, and if the time seems right, guide them to our website to read a little more and see if they recognize any of the symptoms in themselves (they may be feeling other symptoms you haven’t noticed).
You don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok, just make it clear that you’re there to listen if they want to talk. You can hold your partner’s hand, offer hugs, and be present. One frustrating aspect of PTSD for sufferers is that it’s very difficult to articulate, or even know what will help – so your loved one may not be able to tell you what they need, or how they’re feeling. At times, a close hug might be what will help them, but the next minute, they may need to be alone. Try to keep communicating with each other about what will help at that moment in time, and don’t make assumptions that the same thing will help in a few days time.
How can I encourage my loved one to get help?
Acknowledging that you think you may have PTSD can be hard, and any changes in your relatives’ mental health may have felt quite gradual since a trauma, and so they might have not noticed any major issues (or put ‘two and two’ together). In the situation of PTSD, they may also feel that their symptoms are simply due to ‘dealing’ with a trauma that occurred.
If they’re willing, encourage them to see their GP as soon as possible, who will, if appropriate, refer them to their local mental health team for diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.
Some community mental health teams will accept self-referrals so you may be able to go directly to them. You can check this on your local mental health trust website.
Unfortunately, the time between the GP visit, diagnosis and treatment can take some time on the NHS. Once you have a diagnosis, you may wish to consider private treatment (if this is an option for you).
My loved one won’t get help. What can I do?
Your loved one might not want to visit their GP. They may not think they are unwell, not realise a GP can help, or feel too embarrassed or frightened to talk to a ‘stranger’ about how they’re feeling.
If your loved one won’t go to see their GP, and you feel it necessary, you can write to their GP (if you know who they are) to explain your concerns with as many facts and examples as possible. Some GPs feel that a person needs to approach them directly before they can offer any help.
However, some GPs will be willing to invite you to make an appointment to discuss your letter, contact your relative to invite them for a checkup, or to arrange for your loved one to be visited and assessed at home (although this is unlikely to happen without your relative’s consent).
It’s important to note that if your loved one is over the age of 18, they can’t be forced to have treatment they don’t want. They can only be forced to have treatment if they are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.
If you need to more information about where to get treatment, what you are entitled to, or who to turn to to make a compliant in the NHS, you can do so with the help of the Patient Advice & Support Service in Scotland, the Patient Advice & Liason Service in England, the Patient Support and Advisory Service in Wales, or the Patient and Client council in Northern Ireland.
If the person you’re worried about expresses suicidal feelings, you or they should contact a GP or NHS 111. You can also contact Samaritans on 116 123 for confidential, 24-hour support or 999 if they are in immediate danger.
Take care of yourself
During this process, it’s important to take care of yourself. When someone you care about suffers from PTSD it affects you too.
The symptoms of PTSD aren’t easy to live with, and the changes in your loved one can be downright terrifying. You worry that things won’t ever go back to the way they were before. At the same time, you may feel angry about what’s happening to your family, and hurt by your loved one’s distance and new emotions. It’s a stressful situation all around—one that can leave you feeling overwhelmed and confused.
The most important thing to know is that you aren’t helpless. Your support can make a huge difference in your partner, friend, or family member’s recovery. But as you do your best to care for someone with PTSD, you also need to take care of yourself. You can find out more about this here.