Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder and can occur as an acute disorder soon after a trauma, or have a delayed onset in which symptoms occur more than 6 months after the trauma. PTSD develops as a result of an extreme and often unexpected event or series of events. These events can include, but are not limited to, those that are related to physical or sexual assault, accidents, natural or man-made disasters, and war and/or military combat. PTSD or trauma can also be difficult for the family of the person experiencing it. Family members of those experiencing symptoms of PTSD often feel helpless and unsure how to help.

A person experiencing PTSD symptoms has usually been exposed to, or threatened with death or serious physical harm. PTSD may also occur if an individual has witnessed these events happening to others, especially a close friend or relative.

There are three main types of PTSD symptoms:

  1. Re-living the trauma through distressing memories, nightmares or "flashbacks", or experiencing severe psychological distress at exposure to cues that resemble any aspect of the traumatic event. These may also include recurring and intrusive, upsetting recollections of the traumatic event, such as images, thoughts, or perceptions, and behaving or feeling as if the trauma was recurring in the moment.
  2. Feeling numb or emotionally cut off from others, as well as an ongoing avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event The person also avoids any of the cues or resemblances associated with the original trauma and there is a numbing of one’s general response (which was not there before the trauma), including:
    • Making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or topics associated with the trauma;
    • Making efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that lead to memories of the trauma; and
    • Not being able to remember an important aspect of the event
  3. Persistent signs of heightened anxiety and physical tension, increased aggression and irritability, and lack of interest in social activities. This may lead to feeling detached or disconnected from others, trouble concentrating, hypervigilance, and being easily startled.

These PTSD symptoms often cause serious problems in every aspect of an individual's day-to-day functioning, and often have a profound effect on the individual's relationships. Therefore, if a family member is experiencing PTSD, and you feel you are struggling to come to terms with their experiences, there are many support networks and professionals that are able to help. As a family member, it can be distressing to watch them struggle with PTSD and the effects of trauma. Our psychologists can offer you support by:

  • Providing education on the effects of trauma and the likely course recovery will take for your loved one
  • Identifying and treating any anxiety or feelings of distress you may have as a result of a family member experiencing PTSD
  • Allowing you to voice any negative thoughts or feelings that you may feel you are unable to express
  • Exploring strategies to assist both you and your family member to manage the symptoms of PTSD

Our staff can assist you with queries you have about a treatment program tailored to your needs. Visit our practitioner's profiles here.

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