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How can family members help a Veteran diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Dr. Yahaira M Patin
Dr. Yahaira M. Patín Betancourt, Clinical Psychologist

We are going through challenging times due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and we often hear from family members and caregivers ask about ways to support their veteran diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Having a family member who has experienced a traumatic event brings many questions about how to provide them with the necessary emotional care and support during their treatment. Due to the unconditional support from wives, husbands, relatives and caregivers who, demonstrated their support week after week. We continue to hear expressions like this: ‘’ he is recovering, I am glad to see him motivated again, the nightmares have reduced, we can now sit together at the table’’. Together the staff of the Mental Health Trauma Recovery Center has become a great team and family. 

Ways to Contribute:

1. Learn more about the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Managing a patient with this condition is easier when you understand their diagnosis, in this way, you can identify common reactions and changes in their mood and behavior. We have trained staff eager to help and answer your questions.

2. Get involved: Our patients find it of great benefit when you show interest; it is a way of validating what they are experiencing. With small actions such as: reminding and/or accompanying them to an appointment, assisting them when taking their medicine and offering them support when practicing the skills; It contributes to the management of the symptoms at home.

3. Plan quality family time: Many of our patients have difficulty experiencing positive emotions and often feel emotionally distant. Recognizing the times when your loved one needs to be alone and the times when their need your company is important. Doing enjoyable activities reaffirms your interest in their recovery and certainly helps improve mood.

4. Be emotionally present: Patients express the difficulty they experience in discussing the traumatic event with their family and/or caregivers. They often think that when they talk about trauma, they overload their support network. However, express your availability to talk about it. When you do so, offer words of encouragement and promote hope.

5. Make an Action Plan: We often feel calm when we know what to do and how to offer help. The plan does not have to be complex; it can be done by having a conversation between you and your loved one. Discuss the times when he or she is usually most vulnerable. Add to your plan: important dates, people, places or things that remember the traumatic event.  This way, you can take steps to help your loved one manage their symptoms effectively. This plan can be discussed with your mental health provider to add other clinical recommendations. It is important that you know that if a crisis occurs you are not alone, we have a Psychiatric Intensive Unit (PIC) open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the San Juan VA Medical Center.  

6. Recognize your limitations: Many times, family members and/or caregivers express concern that they cannot do more, and it is good for them to know that just you being there is enough for them. Additionally, you are not alone, there are many resources available that can facilitate the care you provide your loved ones, thereby reducing emotional burnout.

Don't forget to pay attention to your physical and emotional health. Recognize the warning signs in your body and consider seeking help if necessary.

If your loved one needs help, call our local Crisis Line at 787-622-4822 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-866-712-4822, offering free and confidential support.