How to Help Someone With PTSD

IF SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, you may wonder what to say or how to help. With PTSD, a disturbing event in the recent or distant past can cause intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares, unexpected outbursts, paralyzing fear and social avoidance. PTSD disrupts people's lives and relationships as it affects their ability to function.

PTSD can happen to anyone: Combat veterans, assault and abuse survivors, cancer patients, car crash victims, witnesses to natural disasters, police and emergency responders repeatedly exposed to terrible situations or kids who have suddenly lost a family member or lived through domestic violence.

Although it shares similarities with anxiety disorders, PTSD is a standalone diagnosis. "The unique thing about PTSD is the person went through a traumatic event," says Jeremy Tyler, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at University of Pennsylvania. "It's a disorder that has to do with how they respond to the trauma over time."

After someone goes through a horrific event, it's quite common to have intense emotional symptoms for the next few months, Tyler says. "We consider that to be pretty normal," he says. "PTSD is when those symptoms don't resolve."