It is difficult to see your loved ones in distress, here’s how you can help.

Domestic violence, accidents, suicide, and sexual assaults – are some of the incidents which are reported quite often these days. According to UN statistics trauma related deaths and injuries are rising in India, however very little is being done towards prevention and management of trauma. Here’s what you should know about it.

What happens in trauma?
When someone you love has been through a traumatic event, a lot of things change. Research on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suggests that when a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, their nervous system is “stuck” in a state of constant alert, making them feel vulnerable and unsafe. Trauma places an intense strain on the person and exceeds their ability to cope or to integrate the experiences involved with that event. Traumatised individuals may seem over-vigilant to seemingly innocuous stimuli. A clear example of this is the over-reactions many Mumbaikars display during the monsoons after the floods of 2005.

What will you see in your loved one

After a traumatic event the person will display four main types of reactions. These can show up in the following ways:

Anger

One of the common outcomes of being through a traumatic event is constant (seemingly irrational) anger. The person may display extreme irritability, mood swings and even bursts of unexplained rage.

Nightmares

Often the brain recycles difficult experiences during sleep as a way to digest the information. Traumatic material however cannot be easily dealt with by the brain resulting in nightmares. Your loved one may complain of poor sleep, restlessness and feeling jumpy.

Flashbacks

The person may become over-sensitive to reminders of the event (people, places, smells or sounds) and may start avoid certain situations.

Shut Down

People who have gone through something traumatic may seem distant and walled off. This is their way of coping with the intense emotions.

Mistrust

The person may fear unknown places, look at people’s harmless intentions with over-suspiciousness. Their brain remains hyper-vigilant long after the event has passed.

Negative self-beliefs

The person may blame themselves and have constant negative self-talk such as “I am bad”, “I am stupid”, “This world is not safe” etc.

What you can do

Research studies by National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National centre for PTSD suggest that the availability of social support has stress-moderating effects and helps in the recovery of trauma. Here is how you can help someone who has gone through a traumatic experience:

Limit media exposure

If they have been through an event that’s flashing on the news they may be tempted to watch every news report. Assure them that you will keep track of the news and report it to them.

Don’t pressure them into talking

When a person goes through something traumatic, brain centres that help the person talk about experiences shuts down. As a result the individual cannot put into words what they have gone through. Forcing them to relate the experience often leads to secondary traumatization.

Provide practical support:

Take care of household chores, driving your loved one to the doctor or manage their medications. Make sure they are eating right, getting enough exercise, taking rest, avoiding too much alcohol/coffee/cigarettes.

Handle anger with safety

If your loved one’s anger turns violent move yourself and your family to a safe place. When they are calm, express the impact their anger has on you. Ask them to give you a signal that their anger is getting out of control and suggest that they learn strategies to cool down the anger.

Accompany them for therapy

Most clients I see who have recently been through a difficult experience feel encouraged when a friend, spouse or relative accompanies them for sessions. While they may not sit in for the session, just their presence in the waiting room is reassuring for the person.

Help them do “normal” stuff

For someone who has been through an abnormal experience, coping in a normal way may seem alien. However getting back to routine is the first step to healing. Encourage your loved one to meet friends, watch movies, join an exercise class, go shopping, pursue a hobby.

This post originally appeared in the Mumbai Mirror.