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Finding Support for PTSD

Seeking out and Establishing Social Support

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Updated October 29, 2008

Finding Support for PTSD
(c) 2007 iStockphoto.com/Joseph Helfenberger

Over and over again, it has been found that finding support from others can be a major factor in helping people overcome the negative effects of a traumatic event and PTSD. However, simply having someone available to talk to may not be enough. Several important pieces to a supportive relationship may be particularly beneficial in helping someone overcome the effects of a traumatic experience. Some of these are described below:

Trust

You must be able to trust your support. A supportive relationship is helpful only to the extent that you feel comfortable opening up and communicating what you are feeling and what you need. Much of what you share with your support will be very personal in nature, and it is important that your support holds whatever you share in confidence. Therefore, a supportive relationship must have a foundation of trust. If you don't trust your support, you may be hesitant to open up and express how you feel, limiting the effectiveness of social support.

Validation

It is important that you feel as though your emotions and thoughts are valid. The best supportive relationship is one where your feelings are respected and it is recognized that your emotions and thoughts are completely reasonable given what you have gone through. You should not be made to feel as though you are doing something wrong for feeling a certain way. Validation can reduce shame, an emotion that may prevent you from opening up to someone about how you feel and what you need.

Communication

Good communication is a must for a supportive relationship. Someone can help you and provide support only to the extent that the two of you communicate effectively with each other. A person won't be able to provide support if you don't communicate what you need and how you are feeling. Likewise, an important aspect of effective communication is good listening skills. Help can't be given if your support does not hear what you are saying.

Knowledge

Your support should also have some knowledge about the difficulties you are experiencing. For example, they should have some idea about the symptoms you are experiencing and how they are affecting you. In addition, you should discuss potential warning signs that your symptoms may be getting worse. The more people you have looking out for you, the better off you will be in a time of need.

Patience

It is in no way easy to cope with the effects of a traumatic event. Trauma and symptoms of PTSD can cause tremendous disruption in a person's life. Therefore, there may be many times when you are struggling and needing support. It is important that your support is patient and understands this. They should understand that there may be many times when you will need support and that you may be struggling with some strong and upsetting thoughts and emotions that are not easily managed.

Availability

For support to be helpful, it must be available at times of need. You support doesn't necessarily have to live close by to you, but it is important that you have some way of contacting your support when you are in need. You may also want to put a plan in place on how you can tell your support when you are in an emergency and need help immediately.

Honesty

Finally, you need to be honest with your support about your feelings and what you are coping with, and likewise, your support needs to be honest with you. They should be direct and open with their feedback and support. A supportive relationship will not be helpful if open, honest communication is not there.

Finding and Establishing Social Support

It can take some time to establish a supportive relationship with someone. However, that time will be well spent, as social support can help you cope with and overcome the effects of a traumatic experience. In addition, it is important to remember that social support is not about quantity, but about quality. Even if you only have just one supportive person in your life, that may be more than enough (especially if they are providing good social support).

If you do not have social support, there are many ways to find it. Support groups may be a good way of establishing supportive relationships. You can find information on different support groups in your area from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI provides support, education, referrals, and advocacy for individuals suffering from severe mental illness, including PTSD. NAMI is nationwide, with organizations in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and District of Columbia. There are also over a thousand local affiliates across the nation. Gift From Within, a nonprofit organization for people suffering from PTSD and their families, also provides links to an international network of survivors willing to provide peer support.

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