Mental Health Monday #MHM – PTSD Help

Back in March I wrote an article about PTSD and recognizing the symptoms and a very brief paragraph about how to reach out for help. The other morning we had a call, and I regretted that I had not put more focus on how to provide aid and support for a family member who has PTSD rather than just the symptoms. If you have a family member with PTSD, I need to start by saying I am sorry that I did not give you as much help as I might have.

I do need to provide a link to the original article because recognition of the symptoms are the first step. It can be found here:

Also, I have mentioned a couple of things that I need to bring up again quickly.

First, I have talked about cortisol and how that hormone, a result of stress, has enormous physical and mental consequences when it is not released; This bit of info ties into the next thing I need to refresh us all on.

Second, the amygdala is, along with the thalamus, the part of the brain that deals with fear, stress, and emotion. If the amygdala receives a threatening message from the thalamus, it sends out an emotional response.

Issues arise when cortisol is being continually dumped into the system. The brain begins adding additional connections in these parts which then trigger more depression, anxiety, stress, and hyper-reactivity while simultaneously reducing the ability of the brain to access the prefrontal cortex which is where we do our real thinking. More reactivity, less processing… see where this is heading?

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Whew, it sure took me a long time to get to what I said was going to be the focus, didn’t it? Sorry, but I feel like if we understand the “how” and “why ” we can wrap our heads around the “what” to do.

So what do family and friends do when they see someone they care about going through the symptoms we have discussed before?

Well, here is a pretty good list cobbled together from a few different sources:

  • 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 does not 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 and also helps the body process cortisol.
  • Encourage contact with family and close friends. A support system will help your family member get through difficult changes and stressful times. People who have PTSD may isolate themselves which will significantly compound the problem.
  • Practice “mindfulness” or “Loving-Kindness” meditation techniques. It is ok to allow yourself to feel your feelings. Trying to suppress them means they will take control. Sure, maybe this seems pretty “sappy” or “granola, ” but it works. There are many videos on YouTube to guide you through this.

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.

What if they get angry or have an outburst? Well, we all know it is nearly pointless to attempt a discussion when someone is overly upset. Here are some pointers:

  • If anger leads to violent behavior or abuse, it is dangerous. Go to a safe place and call for help right away. Make sure children are in a safe place as well.
  • It is hard to talk to someone who is angry. One thing you can do is set up a time-out system. This helps you find a way to talk even while angry. Here’s one way to do this.
  • Agree that either of you can call a time-out at any time.
  • Agree that when someone calls a time-out, the discussion must stop right then.
  • Decide on a signal you will use to call a time-out. The signal can be a word that you say or a hand signal.
  • Agree to tell each other where you will be and what you will be doing during the time-out. Tell each other what time you will come back.
  • While you are taking a time-out, don’t focus on how angry you feel. Instead, think calmly about how you will talk things over and solve the problem.

After you come back:

  • Take turns talking about solutions to the problem. Listen without interrupting.
  • Use statements starting with “I,” such as “I think” or “I feel.” Using “you” statements can sound accusing.
  • Be open to each other’s ideas. Don’t criticize each other.
  • Focus on things you both think will work. It is likely you will both have good ideas.
  • Together, agree which solutions you will use.

Finally, how can you communicate better?  We have discussed some of this in the past, but I found this great YouTube video that has the key ways to talk to someone in crisis: The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators.

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I hope this helps.  Again, it is something I wish I had included the first time around.


Please, don’t ignore a problem. If you have someone who needs help, call someone for help. Me, the VA, a rape crisis center, whomever. Just help that person find help or an outlet.

Take care,



Where to get help:


Other info:


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PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a newer term to describe, though perhaps less well, a condition induced by exposure to extreme psychological or physical trauma.

In World War I, we described soldiers as having “shell shock.” In World War II, it came to be known as “battle fatigue.” During the Korean War, it was “operational exhaustion” and finally came to be PTSD. Does anyone else notice the sterilization and softening of the language used to describe it?

We are talking about the military, and that is probably what most of us think of because of the conflicts we are currently involved in overseas. However, many other things can trigger PTSD.

Rape, sexual trauma, violent incidents, car crashes, domestic abuse, disasters, and so on. All of these things can also trigger PTSD.  Moreover, perhaps even more surprisingly, we do not even have to see these things directly. PTSD can occur from having experienced it, been exposed to it, or even having been told about it.

Let’s stick with the combat analogy for a moment. Humans are not designed to hurt each other, although we seem to be exceedingly good at it. If you do not believe that, let’s go through a relatively famous thought experiment known as “The Trolley Problem.”

Imagine yourself standing on a set of railroad tracks. A fast train is coming down the tracks toward a group of people. You notice a switch to send the train onto a second set of tracks, but that will kill a single person standing on them.  There is no time for any of course of action. Do you pull the switch?

For many, the quick and easy answer is yes. The loss of one person is preferable to the train killing a group of individuals. Tragic, yes, but logically speaking (for all you Star Trek fans), “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

So let’s change up this scenario a touch. The same setup but this time the only way to stop the train is to push the man onto the tracks.

Does this change things? Logically, no. One person dying is still preferable to many dying. And, technically, you are still responsible for the death of the man.

However, does it make a difference in your mind between pulling a switch and having pushed this man to his death? Do you feel differently about whether you could or would do it?

So let’s come back to the experience of trauma. As we attempt to reconcile the traumatic event, some struggle with being able to cope to the point that it interferes with day to day life. Guilt, depression, emotional pain, and soon become overwhelming and lead to symptoms such as:

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts


Avoidance symptoms:

  • Avoiding places, events, or things associated with the event.
  • Avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the event, including self-medicating to do so.

Reaction symptoms:

  • Easily triggered startle reflex.
  • Feeling tense, anxious, or on edge.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Angry outbursts.

Mood / Thinking symptoms:

  • Memory troubles.
  • Persistent negativity about oneself or life.
  • Distorted feelings of guilt or blame.
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed.

So what can be done about PTSD? Well, typically a combination of medications and talk therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) have been found to be the most effective. There is even a treatment that uses eye movement and trauma recollection to reduce the negative emotional impact.

Overall, there is help available for you or loved ones that are having problems dealing with emotional trauma. If you do not know where to start, follow some links below. There are also many local resources that can help.

You have heard it before, and you are about to hear it again. We are here to help. If you or someone you know needs assistance dealing with PTSD, please call me at 817-427-7092. If this is an emergency, CALL 911.


Resources / References:


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