Living With Ptsd How To Recognize Ptsd Symptoms In A Loved One

When a person has post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, it can be very hard on family members. PTSD is a mood disorder that’s triggered by exposure to a frightening or traumatic event. If you have a family member who has survived war, rape, personal assault or other traumatic events, you may recognize many of the PTSD symptoms.

As with most illnesses, PTSD affects family members, too. While you might not be experiencing the flashbacks and nightmares associated with PTSD, you may be concerned about a family member’s anger or wonder why it seems like he’s constantly on red alert. Symptoms of anxiety and depression in a loved one may cause you to feel worried and tense.

As a family member of someone living with PTSD, it’s important to learn about the disorder so you can help your loved ones in the best way possible.

Understanding PTSD Symptoms

One of the most prominent symptoms of PTSD is vivid flashbacks and nightmares. As a family member, you may not always see these symptoms. However, people who suffer from PTSD also exhibit other symptoms that you may recognize. For example, the person with PTSD may avoid talking about the upsetting event or seem unable to remember people or situations associated with the trauma. People with PTSD may also spend most of their time on red alert, expecting something terrible to happen at any moment. This state of hyper-vigilance makes them anxious and jumpy.

Other PTSD symptoms to look for include:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Depression
  • Detached behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Talk of death or suicide.

Living with PTSD in the Family

If someone in your family has post-traumatic stress disorder, the best way to help them is to learn as much as you can about PTSD. Encourage them to see a doctor or therapist for PTSD treatments, and consider going to family therapy together. Family therapy helps open the lines of communication between family members and helps you understand what your loved one is going through. Family therapy can also help you sort through your own feelings of confusion and pain that come from PTSD in the family.

Sometimes, people with PTSD can be very angry, or they may even become violent. If this anger leads to abusive behavior, get help for yourself and other people in the household right away. Even if your family member is not violent, living with a person with PTSD can be mentally and physically draining, and it’s important to remember to take care of yourself.

You can also encourage the person with PTSD to talk about his feelings, and try to get him involved in family gatherings. Group exercise, like a long walk or bike ride, is especially helpful for mood disorders. But realize that withdrawal is a common symptom of PTSD. The person may not want to talk about his problems or participate in any activities. If this is the case, let him know that you understand, but you’re still there for support whenever he feels like talking.


Crabtree, J. (1996). Waiting for the explosion: Living with someone suffering from PTSD. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from

United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010). Helping a family member who has PTSD. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from