How to talk to a loved one about your PTSD
Having access to a therapist to discuss the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not always enough. You will sometimes need to talk about your PTSD – and its impact on your everyday behaviours and mood – with someone you love. Or even your boss, colleagues and friends.
That can be a difficult thing to do, for many reasons.
However, being able to have a conversation about your mental health is a vital step towards sustainable recovery. In fact, bottling things up can make your situation far worse, as proved by the terrible statistics on risk-taking behaviours, self-harm and suicide.
That is why Thursday (3rd Feb) is Time to Talk Day in the UK.
Why would there need to be a national day that encourages open discussion about personal struggles? The main reason is this event supports more awareness and discussion about mental health issues.
So, here’s our guide to being able to talk to people about your PTSD and C-PTSD – but it’s important to note, while you don’t need to share your diagnosis with anyone and everyone, it’s important to share your condition with loved ones where you can so they can support you. ‘After all, your loved ones are likely to see the symptoms of the disorder and how they affect you.
Moreover, loved ones can be an excellent source of social support, which has been found to be incredibly beneficial for people with PTSD. Social support may speed up recovery from PTSD and help someone overcome the effects of a traumatic event.’
Still, telling others about a PTSD or C-PTSD diagnosis can be stressful or worrying for some people. Stigma, and fear of others’ reactions might be what causes some of this worry.
Stigma – real and not real
One of the most ingrained issues that Time to Talk Day aims to address is stigma, both real and perceived. These are two distinct things.
Yes, there are still myths and misconceptions about PTSD, and you may come across ignorance and judgement. However, it can be too easy for people with mental health conditions to make their own misjudgements too. You can imagine that ‘everyone’ will think less of you.
By being fearful of other people’s negative reactions to your PTSD, you could be cutting yourself off from a lot of healthy support and understanding.
There is far more awareness about mental health now. Initiatives like ‘Time to Talk’, ‘It’s okay to not be okay’ and the ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’ and we hope PTSD UK, have dismantled a lot of the stigma surrounding mental health.
There are also a lot of hard-working mental health charities like us who are doing a great deal to spread knowledge, understanding and empathy.
Will I be pitied or judged?
Your reluctance to talk about your PTSD may come from pride or feeling you need to put a ‘brave face’ on things for your loved ones.
You will notice that the word used above was ‘empathy’. What’s empathy? It means having the information needed to gain an understanding of someone else’s feelings and problems. It’s not the same as pitying them!
Alongside the national campaigns to build empathy and engagement with mental health issues, you can do things that lead to a supportive response to your issues, as we outline below.
How to start a conversation about your PTSD or C-PTSD
You don’t need to put everything out there and reveal all your darkest or most distressing trauma details when you decide to open up about your PTSD to someone in your life. You are in control.
Here are some tips on how to frame the conversation, to make it a more positive process. It’s also a handy guide to explaining PTSD to loved ones when you’re first diagnosed.
- Create a situation in which you feel safe and comfortable, such as a walk on the beach or relaxing on your sofa at home.
- Ask the person for their undivided attention, and make sure you won’t be disturbed while you chat.
- Provide your listener with the basic facts about PTSD (they are in our online resources). Explain how common it is, and the many types of trauma that create PTSD.
- Increase understanding of the effects of trauma, by mentioning that it’s altered your brain chemistry in a way that can be hard for you to control. At the moment!
- You could go on to mention some of your coping mechanisms to manage everyday PTSD symptoms and the steps involved in PTSD recovery.
- Point them to this website, for a wealth of information about PTSD causes, symptoms and treatments.
It’s really important to outline some of the ways your PTSD may impact your relationship with them. As well as the things they can do to support your recovery.
A good example would be explaining that sometimes you need to abruptly leave a room, or go off on your own, with no explanation. Do you sleep badly and have nightmares, which a loved one can better understand if you’re honest about PTSD effects?
Also, it can be useful to ask for their help in researching PTSD treatment options and supporting your ability to get to sessions with therapists.
Choose what you’re ready to disclose
‘You do not need to tell your loved ones everything. For example, you do not need to disclose specific information or specific details about your traumatic event. You are in control: what to disclose is completely up to you. Give them enough information to understand the diagnosis and what they can do to help.
If someone asks you an uncomfortable question that you do not want to answer, it is perfectly okay to simply say, “I’m sorry, but I am not ready to talk about that yet.” Prepare beforehand by coming up with some things you can say if someone asks you a question you do not want to answer. You can blame us here at PTSD UK if necessary, quoting us as saying that you do not need to talk about those specific details now, or anytime in the future. (You may feel very vulnerable as you cope with PTSD, and need to know that people have your back.) Your friends and family members who will support you will be comfortable with that reply. A true friend will want to support you no matter the history behind your symptoms.’
Don’t feel you need to know everything
Our website is here to help answer any questions you or your loved ones may have about PTSD or C-PTSD – don’t feel you need to know everything about the condition before you talk to them. Infact, it may help you feel supported if they do some of the ‘knowledge building’ with you, or for you.
Advantages of talking to people about your PTSD
Opening up to people about your PTSD can help you feel empowered and stronger. Talking about your symptoms can help put them in context and lessen their grip on you. The other side of the coin is living in constant fear that one of your symptoms will ‘leak out’ and constant tension that people will ‘guess’ you have mental health struggles.
Also, by sharing the reasons for your actions and moods, you empower people in your life to be more supportive and patient. They can understand how PTSD affects you, and focus more on the positive things about what makes you, YOU!
If they offer help, and you’re not sure what might help you, this article might be useful!
Be prepared incase they don’t understand
‘Finally, prepare yourself for the possibility that someone may not be supportive or understanding of what you are going through. Sometimes people may not be ready to hear what you have to tell them. This can be a very difficult experience to encounter, and it has the potential to make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.
It may also prevent you from seeking out support from others. Before you tell anyone about your PTSD, make sure you have some coping skills ready to deal with the possibility that someone may not give you the response you want.
Keep in mind that some people, perhaps those closest to you that you most need to understand, never will. That doesn’t mean they are bad people. Those who haven’t experienced PTSD or anything near PTSD may never understand. Don’t forget that there is a huge community of people out there who will understand. That doesn’t mean that you need to abandon those closest to you. We often need different things from different people, and in this area, you may need to get your support from others who have faced similar enough challenges that they understand your need to share and not feel alone. You can always drop us an email if you need to talk.
If you need more help talking to a loved one about your PTSD, visit the Time to Talk website or contact our friendly, knowledgeable team.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.