How to Support a Loved One With PTSD | All Points North

Start the Admissions Process Online

Fill out your information to receive a free, confidential call from the team at All Points North.


How to Support a Loved One With PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts more than just the person who is living with the disorder – it affects their friends, family, and others in their life.

You can support your loved one who has PTSD as they learn to manage their symptoms, easing their path to recovery. To do this, you need actionable tools that will empower you to advocate for them on their journey, starting with a better understanding of PTSD.

The Importance of PTSD Awareness

PTSD is more common than many people recognize. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 6% of the United States population will experience PTSD in their lifetime, and roughly 5% are living with PTSD in any given year.

Despite this prevalence, many people cannot recognize the symptoms of PTSD in their loved ones — or even in themselves. In many cases, those living with PTSD go to great lengths to hide their symptoms or are simply unaware that their lives are being affected by the traumatic experiences they’ve lived through.

Research has also shown that most people with PTSD symptoms don’t seek mental health treatment. A study in 2023 showed that 56% of veterans and 86% of nonveterans with probable PTSD received no treatment for the condition.

There is an abundance of reasons for why people avoid seeking treatment, such as:

  • Unfamiliarity with the symptoms of PTSD
  • Hesitancy due to stigma regarding mental health disorders
  • Lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of PTSD treatment options
  • Concerns about the cost of treatment

When people are more aware of the signs and symptoms of PTSD, as well as the many effective treatment options available, they are more likely to seek treatment and regain a higher quality of mental health.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The first step in building awareness and helping your loved one with PTSD is understanding the signs and symptoms of this disorder. PTSD is caused by living through a traumatic event, such as:

  • Sexual assault
  • Combat experience
  • The unexpected loss of a loved one
  • A natural disaster
  • An act of violence
  • A life-threatening situation

The specific event doesn’t hold as much weight as how the person’s body and brain respond to it. Trauma is an internal phenomenon, and two people can have completely different reactions to the same situation.

For example, suppose that two people are in a car crash. Although they experienced the same event, one person may develop severe PTSD that prevents them from driving or even riding in a car, while the other may experience no lasting trauma.

PTSD is about more than just the traumatic event itself. It’s characterized by long-lasting symptoms that continue well after the traumatic event has passed that cause substantial interference in daily life.

The symptoms of PTSD are generally broken down into four main categories.

Intrusion Symptoms

Intrusion symptoms are uncontrollable and invasive reminders about the traumatic event. They include the following:

  • Recurring and distressing memories about the traumatic event
  • Dreams related to the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks, or suddenly feeling like the traumatic event is happening again
  • Intense distress when exposed to reminders of the traumatic event
  • Physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event

These symptoms can happen at any time and are typically outside of a person’s direct control.

Avoidance Symptoms

People who are living with PTSD may avoid situations that spark memories of the traumatic event. They may make efforts to repress distressing memories and keep away from people, places, or situations that they associate with the event.

For example, someone living with PTSD might avoid the following activities:

  • Traveling near the place where their traumatic experience happened
  • Meeting certain people associated with the traumatic event
  • Consuming media that portrays similar events

Some may even avoid treatment if they think it will force them to relive parts of their traumatic experience.

Mood and Cognitive Symptoms

People with PTSD often experience a host of negative mood and cognitive changes characterized by symptoms such as:

  • Being unable to remember certain aspects of the traumatic event
  • Holding exaggerated negative beliefs about themselves or others
  • Blaming themselves or others for the causes or consequences of the traumatic event, even when they are not responsible
  • Experiencing a perpetual negative emotional state
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities that used to be important to them
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Feeling unable to experience positive emotions

Someone who develops PTSD may experience markedly different changes in their mood and cognitive condition.

Reactivity Symptoms

The last set of symptoms revolves around a heightened level of arousal and reactivity, which can include symptoms such as:

  • An exaggerated startle response
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Self-destructive behavior or recklessness
  • Hypervigilance, or feeling like you are constantly on guard
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep

These symptoms are often attributed to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling the body’s fight-or-flight response.

How to Support Your Loved One With PTSD

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD is the first step in supporting a loved one with the disorder. If you’ve gone through the symptoms and believe that your loved one may be living with PTSD, you can take a few more steps to help them along on their path to recovery.

Educate Yourself About the Disorder

Start by further educating yourself about PTSD. It can have a wide range of behavioral and physical effects, and learning to recognize these changes as symptoms of a mental health condition can help you show compassion for your loved one’s challenges.

If you’re learning about PTSD, you’re already on the right path. However, the range of experiences that people will have with PTSD is outside the scope of this article alone.

Consider seeking out more information about the different types of PTSD, the common challenges people face on the road to recovery, and the effects of PTSD on both the mind and the body.

Show Compassion and Empathy

Living with PTSD can be incredibly difficult, and it often leads people to act in ways that they never would have before developing this disorder. While it’s easy to get frustrated with your loved one when they don’t behave the way you’d like them to, expressing this emotion is not always helpful.

As best as you can, try to show compassion for your loved one and their challenges. This may be much easier when you’ve learned about how PTSD can affect the brain, central nervous system, and body. With this knowledge, you can more easily understand that the way they think, behave, and react has been altered by their traumatic experience.

By showing an empathetic sense of caring, you open the door for your loved one to be willing to accept your support. A little compassion goes a long way — and can help you lead them to the next steps in getting better.

Help Them Find Effective Treatment

Many effective PTSD treatment options can help people manage their symptoms and achieve lasting recovery. But while someone is experiencing the debilitating symptoms of this disorder, they may struggle to take steps toward receiving quality mental health care.

If your loved one is willing to start treatment, you can play an important role in helping them find effective care. This could mean helping them with tasks such as:

  • Choosing a treatment center
  • Exploring different evidence-based treatment options
  • Getting in touch with therapists or treatment providers
  • Driving them to appointments
  • Helping them with obligations while they are in treatment

This practical support can help ease the process of your loved one getting effective treatment, reducing many of the barriers to care that people living with PTSD can face.

PTSD Treatment Options

Trauma treatment has expanded significantly in the last several years, with new and innovative treatment options adding to an already large base of evidence-based techniques.

Talk Therapy Approaches

Talk therapy has long been the first-line approach to helping people manage the symptoms of PTSD. Sitting and talking with a professional therapist allows people to process their emotions, understand what’s causing them to behave differently, and try new coping mechanisms and techniques to manage their symptoms.

There are several different therapeutic modalities used in trauma therapy. These are two of the most common:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to managing the symptoms of many mental health disorders, including PTSD.

During a CBT session, the client works with a therapist to identify maladaptive patterns of thoughts and behaviors. They learn to challenge these patterns and develop new and healthier ways of approaching their difficulties.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a newer style of therapy that was developed specifically for the treatment of PTSD.

EMDR involves performing eye movements that are known as “bilateral stimulation” tasks. These tasks aim to help clients soothe their central nervous system, process difficult emotional experiences, and ultimately grow past the ingrained patterns of PTSD.

Medication Management

Psychiatric medications help relieve symptoms for many people living with PTSD. Starting medication management means your loved one meets with a psychiatrist to talk about their specific struggles, decide on which medication options will work best for them, and talk about any concerns they may have about starting a new medication.

But medication management isn’t just a single session. Clients meet with a psychiatrist regularly to monitor their progress. They may adjust the timing or dosage of medication as needed or switch to different medication options if the first approach isn’t working as well as hoped.

Stellate Ganglion Blocks

The stellate ganglion is a bundle of nerves that serves as one of the primary pathways for the sympathetic nervous system. A stellate ganglion block is a brief medical procedure that involves administering a small dose of local anesthetic to this bundle of nerves, which can stop the overactive stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system in people with PTSD.

Though the effects of a stellate ganglion block aren’t permanent, this technique can provide rapid relief from PTSD symptoms and help people to make faster progress using other evidence-based therapies.

Ketamine-Assisted Healing

Ketamine-assisted healing is a novel approach to treating PTSD using a combination of talk therapy and the dissociative psychedelic ketamine. This medication can help people to step outside of their symptoms temporarily, look at their thoughts and behaviors objectively, and ultimately move toward the path of recovery.

This new therapy may provide rapid results and has shown evidence that supports its effectiveness in treating PTSD.

Start Treatment at All Points North

The team at All Points North uses multiple tools in our comprehensive trauma treatment programs. With several different trauma therapies, innovative treatment techniques using groundbreaking medications and technologies, and specific support programs for veterans and the LGBTQIA+ community, your loved one can get all the tools and support they need to flourish.

For more information on how All Points North can help you or your loved one with PTSD, call us at 855.934.1178 or fill out our confidential contact form.


  • “How Common Is PTSD in Adults?” Va.Gov: Veterans Affairs, 13 Sept. 2018,
  • “Treatment Utilization for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in a National Sample of Veterans and Nonveterans.” Medical Care, Accessed 14 June 2024.