Supporting Veterans with PTSD
The men and women who fight for our country often come home with PTSD. 11-20% of veterans suffer from PTSD. Veterans with PTSD are at risk for attempting suicide. Knowing this, there are treatment options and support that can make a big difference for these heroes.
After being exposed to countless life-threatening situations in the military, we must do what we can to protect them now that they are home. Coming from military life with traumatic experiences, civilian life can be very isolating. Transitioning back to civilian life as a new person can bring on all kinds of challenges especially for those with PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans
It’s important to know the symptoms of PTSD so that you can recognize them either in yourself or a loved one. Every case of PTSD will be different but some of the common symptoms are:
- avoiding people
- avoiding crowded places
- feeling sad and angry
- hyper-aware of the environment
- trouble sleeping
- struggling to focus on a task
A veteran with PTSD will avoid any people, places, or situations that are triggers for flashbacks. Certain parts of civilian life may take them back to their time in the military. A veteran may not realize that they are doing this at first.
Some people may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to self-medicate and cope, this is why it’s crucial to get veterans the help they need at the first sign of trouble. These unhealthy ways of coping may turn into substance abuse situations.
Family members and friends play such an important role in our lives. This is especially true for people who are going through trials that are especially isolating such as PTSD.
When someone experiences PTSD, it is not something that they can explain to another person. At least, not in a way that they will feel understood in most situations. This is why one of the best ways to support veterans with PTSD is to encourage them to talk with other veterans who have experienced PTSD and mental health challenges.
There are a lot of opportunities for support with your local VA. A peer specialist is a person who lives with mental health conditions but is certified to help others cope and overcome theirs. There are also group counseling sessions that can be very helpful for families.
You can use this tool to help you find VA and community resources.
Find a Professional Therapist
Treatment options for veterans with PTSD include therapy and medication. Support from family and self-help strategies are what make these treatment options successful, but they won’t replace the need for professional help. Accelerated Resolution Therapy is one method used to treat PTSD that has been studied and shown to be very successful.
Receiving treatment from a professional as soon as possible is important for minimizing the chance of symptoms becoming worse. A therapist will also give you a toolbox of ways to manage these symptoms. Every individual has a unique case with a unique set of needs. This is why talking one on one with a therapist is so important.
When you have big problems in your life it is easy to let the daily self-care fall away. When something like PTSD is a part of your morning, then how could breakfast matter?
This mentality is very common and makes sense. However, mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand and are huge parts of overall well being. Managing PTSD is a bit like running a marathon. You can’t take on something like that if you haven’t been taking care of yourself with a daily self-care routine.
Daily Self Care Should Include:
- Exercise within your physical limits to improve your mood and help you sleep at night.
- Eat healthy meals to help your body and mind.
- Develop a routine to help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Practice meditation and relaxation techniques.
Help the veterans in your life prioritize taking care of themselves with healthy daily routines.
Make a Plan For When a Situation Gets Hard
Identifying triggers can help you plan for when they happen. When you have people around you who know about them you can have the support you need in those specific situations.
There are two types of triggers, internal and external. Internal triggers are felt and experienced inside of your body. For example, internal triggers can be thoughts, memories, emotions, and also sensations like your heart racing.
External triggers are people, places, or situations that happen outside your body that you come up against throughout the day. For example, this could be a smell, an argument, watching the news, or being at a specific place.
Of course, it would be nice if you could avoid all of your triggers, but clearly, that isn’t possible. Especially when emotion can be the trigger. This is why you need to make a plan for when triggers do come up to lessen their impact.
Some healthy coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers include:
- deep breathing
- grounding, focusing on an object in the present moment
A therapist can help you to understand what these look like and how to use them to lower the impact of triggers. Every individual will have a different plan but as long as you have a plan you won’t be left helpless.
PTSD is when your nervous system is stuck in the warzone. This is hard for someone to understand that has never been to the warzone. You don’t need to tell your friends and family about your war experiences in order to tell them how you feel. If you are able to tell them what you need you will have someone who can help.
The worst thing someone with PTSD can do is keep it to themself. Your nervous system can’t get out of the warzone on its own. You need all the support and resources you can. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, you can’t take on PTSD without training as well.