You may be familiar with the growing rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among the military, as outlined in this Globe and Mail article, however, a recent conversation on The Current with CBC notes that PTSD and suicide rates are high—too high— in the ranks of our Emergency First Responders as well. And no wonder, given what the military and first responders encounter on an almost daily basis.
For while PTSD can occur in anyone, the Canadian Mental Health Association notes that it is more likely to be triggered in those whose occupations are at a higher risk to experience trauma. Though all the factors are not yet fully understood, the rates of PTSD appear to increasing in certain populations, meaning that we are all likely at some point to either encounter or have someone in our life who experiences PTSD. It can be difficult to know what to do in those times, yet, what has become clear is how much those suffering from PTSD need our support, on both a societal and individual level.
So what can we do to help those with PTSD?
- 1. The first step to supporting someone with PTSD is to understand what it is. As the name suggests, PTSD occurs after someone experiences a traumatic event. A traumatic event usually entails a very frightening experience in which a person feels helpless or powerless. It can erode people’s sense of safety, both of themselves and of the world. The symptoms can include intrusive flashbacks or nightmares, a hyper vigilance for danger, irritability, and a sense of numbness or disconnection. These intense symptoms can also at times lead a person to cope using either alcohol or other substances. In addition to other ways it helps, knowing what the symptoms of PTSD are can help you to understand when your loved one lashes out, withdraws, or seems unreasonably angry/irritable, that it may have more to do with PTSD than anything you have done.
- 2. Be there. Even when it seems like your loved one does not want to talk or is withdrawing, it can be helpful for them to know that you are willing and wanting to support them. Asking open ended questions can help them process their thoughts, feelings, and what is going on for them. When and if you share, instead of starting with advice, it may help to begin with your experience. Processing your feelings out loud is a model that they can follow, especially if they are experiencing high levels of numbness or disconnection.
- 3. Seek help. Certain individual counselling techniques, such as relaxation strategies and cognitive behavioural therapy, have been shown to be effective in alleviating PTSD. Emotionally Focused Therapy has also been effective in helping couples and families that experience PTSD support and understand one another. It is important that not only those who experience PTSD receive support, but also their caregivers as well. Good self-care can be extremely important when dealing with the ongoing stressors of PTSD.
For more information on Capital Choice Counselling Group’s individual, couple, and family counselling services for PTSD, please call 613-425-4257 or click here.
Written By: Erika DeSchiffart, psychotherapist with Capital Choice Counselling Group