10 Things to Say to Someone with PTSD & 10 Things NOT to Say
Chances are you know someone who suffers from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) since there are about 24.4 million people who have PTSD at any given time. 
PTSD isn’t a sign of weakness and can happen to anyone who lives through something extremely traumatic.
Also, several factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD after a traumatic experience such as: the event being very intense or long-lasting, being injured when the event occurs, past experiences, and fears.
To find out about the symptoms of PTSD, click here. Not only will you learn more about the symptoms of PTSD from that article, but you’ll also get a better understanding of what life is like for a person with PTSD and how you can help them.
Also, I highly recommend sharing this article with those you know who have PTSD: Finding Hope When You Have PTSD.
10 Things to Say to Someone with PTSD
Each of these 10 things you should say to someone with PTSD will show them you support and care for them.
1) I’ll support you.
When someone has PTSD, they don’t feel like anyone understands. And mostly that’s because they know that there aren’t many people who feel the way they do. So just telling them that you support them can bring them comfort.
2) How can I help?
The answer you probably get is, “There’s nothing you can do, but thank you.” Try not to take that as a final answer. A person with PTSD feels like no one can really help. But asking this question regularly shows them that you do care and truly want to help in any way you can.
3) I don’t know what it’s like to have PTSD, but I am here for you.
The beginning of this statement is important (reference #1 below). Even if you’ve had PTSD in the past, say something like, “I’ve had PTSD too and I am here for you.”
4) When you’re ready to get help, I’ll help you find a counselor.
This statement packs several powerful meanings behind it. To a person with PTSD, when they hear this from you, it means: (1) That you aren’t rushing them to get help because rushing them to talk to someone about what happened before they are ready to will give them anxiety, (2) that you are confident they can get better, (3) that you’re supporting them, (4) and that you want to help them.
5) What triggers your flashbacks so I can help you avoid those things?
Triggers are to be avoided like the plague (at least for a while). PTSD isn’t something that can be overcome by being around the things that trigger anxiety/panic attacks.
PTSD can become better after time (that may be 1 year or 30 years), counseling, medication, etc. But being around the things that remind them of the trauma they lived through won’t make them better.
6) Please help me understand how you feel.
7) What can I do to help you feel less stressed?
See if there’s something you can take off their to-do list. You can also help schedule appointments or pick up medication, things like that. Maybe there’s an errand they need to run but it’s near a place that triggers anxiety/panic attacks, offer to do the errand for them.
8) Take your time.
There’s an unspoken pressure for people with PTSD to get over what happened. Even if no one actually says something like, “aren’t you doing better yet?” or “it’s been long enough, time to put the past behind you.” (see more info on this below), people with PTSD still feel pressured from society to be fine. Telling them to take their time and not feel pressured can mean a lot to them.
9) Let’s do something to clear your mind.
When a person has PTSD, their mind is always going. So offer to do something with them to help clear their mind, even if it’s just for a short time. Things like seeing a movie, eating at a fancy restaurant, or just relaxing at home.
10) I believe in you and I’m here for you 24/7.
Hearing that you believe in them can be very motivational. And knowing that you’re available, even if it’s 3:00 in the morning for them to talk to, only cements the fact that you care and want to help.
10 Things NOT to Say to Someone with PTSD
While you may have good intentions by saying a few of these (like #1, #2, or #3), none of these things will help someone with PTSD and may even make them feel worse.
1) I know how you feel.
People with PTSD are told this a lot. And it makes them angry every time they hear it. While you may be able to imagine what they saw or imagine how you would handle a situation, until the exact same thing happens to you, you won’t actually KNOW how they feel (and even then, you still wouldn’t feel the exact same because everyone handles experiences differently).
I don’t want to share my story here, but I’ll give you an example from someone else with PTSD. I ran across this on the internet, so I don’t know who this is. But this will give you an idea of what goes through someone’s mind when they hear, “I know how you feel.” And while he doesn’t usually answer someone when they say that, if he did, it would be along the lines of:
“Really? You know what I feel? How come? When did you try to hold in the guts of a 5-year-old boy as he bled out into the dust? When did you pick bits of someone else’s bones out of a wound in your face? When did you come back to a dead pigeon you had seen three days earlier and eat it because supplies had still not been dropped to you? When were you out and about as the mortars hit making sure all of your lads were safe in bunkers you had designed and built? When do you lie awake at night because one of your lads was transferred to another area where they weren’t using your bunkers and was killed in a rocket attack?” 
So please, even though your intentions are good, just stay away from the phrase, “I know how you feel”.
2) God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle.
Actually God does give us more than we can handle. But He doesn’t give us more than HE can handle. Putting your faith and trust in God and knowing that He walks with you when bad things happen, is why we can get through seemingly impossible situations with His help.
Feeling alone when we’re suffering is what causes us to feel we aren’t strong enough to handle what has happened. So if someone is already feeling like God isn’t there, then telling them that God doesn’t give them anything they can’t handle, will only make them mad at God because they don’t know why God would let this happen. Instead of this, say something like, “God is with you. He was there with you when the event happened, He was hurting too; and He’s with you now. Lean on Him.”
3) You’re strong so you’ll be fine.
It’s great to think someone is strong. But the person with PTSD doesn’t feel strong, every day is a battle for them. So when someone says, “you’re strong so you’ll be fine” it sounds like they expect you to get over it by yourself and soon.
4) It could have been worse.
It doesn’t matter if this is true or not. For the person who lived through the terror that caused their PTSD, it was terrible and something they never want to experience again.
5) Suck it up and move on.
Seriously; why would someone say this in the first place?? But you know people say it; insensitive people who can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes. If you’ve said this to someone (even if it’s not someone with PTSD) apologize.
6) Shouldn’t you be better by now?
Here we go with the insensitive people again…
PTSD, just like grief, depression, anxiety, etc., doesn’t have a time-table. There’s no magical day when things are just all better. People who lived through something traumatic are never going to forget what happened. Although their PTSD symptoms may eventually get better or even stop, that experience will always be a part of them.
7) People have been through worse.
Yes, yes some people have been through worse. But that doesn’t change the fact that what was experienced by the person you know with PTSD isn’t bad. You can’t compare a soldier’s PTSD with a car accident survivor’s PTSD. While they both lived through something terrible, they have PTSD for different reasons and will have different types of flashbacks/nightmares/triggers/panic attacks, etc.
8) I thought only soldiers got that.
Actually no. The following is from my article, Helping a Friend or Loved One who has PTSD (from someone who has had it too): Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop from many different traumatic events such as:
* Watching someone die
* Being in a serious accident
* Being the cause of someone else’s death
* Being a police officer, firefighter, first responder, etc.
* Seeing something you already fear being played out
* Watching something traumatic happen to a loved one
* Experiencing long-lasting trauma
* Childhood abuse or neglect
9) Leave it in the past.
When a person has PTSD, it’s not about the person not letting go of the past, but the past not letting go of the person.
While that may not make sense to someone who hasn’t had it, it’s a true statement for those with PTSD. A good way to remember it is, for them it’s not so much about letting go, it’s about not being able to forget.
10) What happened to you was not that bad.
Maybe to someone who didn’t live through what happened it’s not that bad. But this ties into #1 and #7. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what their traumatic experience was like. Because until you have been through the exact same thing and handle it the same way, you won’t know how bad it was.
A few good ways to help someone with PTSD:
*A person with PTSD or depression may want to be left alone but not actually be alone. So they may not want to talk about how they are feeling, but still want you to be there with them.
*Try to put yourself in their shoes. This isn’t easy, but it will help you and them.
*PTSD is a sign that they’ve endured a lot of terrible things. Remind them of that and tell them that they are not weak and they’re not alone. Remind them that God is with them.
And remember, if your friend or loved one is threatening to (or already has) hurt other people or themselves (including abusing drugs or alcohol), they NEED professional help. Even if you think they’ll resent you for getting it, it must be done to keep them, and those around them, safe.
Sources & References: