Living with PTSD: A Guide for Loved Ones

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a household term, often used inappropriately to joke about the effects of an event. However, living with PTSD is not a punchline. PTSD disrupts daily life, causes depression, and often leads to dire circumstances such as addiction and suicide. A strong support network is important for people with PTSD, meaning that family and friends of PTSD sufferers should have a general grasp of what it’s like to live with this disorder. To help loved ones of PTSD sufferers understand what life is like for them, we share just a few of their daily experiences below.
Memory Gaps and Dissociation

PTSD causes short-term memory loss, leaving alarming gaps in the sufferer’s everyday life. They may also experience difficulty retaining new information. For example, a college student with PTSD would find retention of lessons extremely difficult while a business owner might fail to remember to order essentials for daily operations. This can greatly impede life for those with PTSD.

Dissociation is a term that means someone’s consciousness has altered to separate itself from the trauma. Dissociation occurs in a subtype of PTSD and will not be experienced by all with the disorder. However, dissociation can be a very disruptive event for those who do develop it. It is described as the sensation of not feeling real. The body, the life, the experiences, or the world around the person with dissociation may cease to feel like life is a real experience.

Flashbacks with Fear or Violent Responses

One of the most commonly recognized symptoms of PTSD is flashbacks. These flashbacks are triggered by stimuli unique to each sufferer of PTSD. A trigger can come from any of the five senses and is usually something that has a connection to the event. Given the array of potential reminders in the world, flashbacks can occur anywhere, causing reactions of fear, terror, or even violence in the PTSD sufferer. The dangers associated with flashbacks can lead someone living with PTSD to isolate himself out of fear of a public episode.

PTSD service dogs are an increasingly common implementation for handling flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms. A trained service dog can sense an episode or be given a command to lead its handler from the trigger, to the nearest exit, or to a designated person. Service dogs also can be trained to keep the crowd at bay as the flashback subsides, preventing well-meaning strangers from amplifying the episode.

Depression and Risk of Addiction

One of the most common effects of PTSD is depression. Depression in sufferers of PTSD is the result of many things. Trauma itself easily can trigger depression, while the daily struggles of flashbacks, memory loss, and isolation add to the likelihood of its development.

Often stemming from that depression is addiction. One of the most common problems faced by people with mental illness is self-medication. With the stigmatization and general lack of knowledge surrounding mental illness, many people do not receive adequate treatment. Instead, they turn to the only thing they think will make them feel better: drugs and/or alcohol. Alcohol abuse is easily the most common form of self-medication, as it slows the mind and clouds thoughts, thereby allowing the user to relax. The problem is that individuals with PTSD often require more alcohol or drugs to numb their pain or ease their symptoms, which leads to substance abuse and eventually addiction.

Living with PTSD can be extremely difficult. If someone in your life is expressing symptoms of PTSD, it is important that they get help immediately. With the assistance of a trained counselor, individuals with PTSD can manage the disorder via healthy coping methods, medical treatment, or a service dog. If left untreated, the symptoms will only worsen, driving your loved one deeper and deeper into depression and risk of addiction and suicide. However, with the support of loved ones and the guidance of a professional, your loved one may never experience the struggle of addiction, depression, or suicidal thoughts as a result of PTSD.