Explains what trauma is and how it affects your mental health, including how you can help yourself, what treatments are available and how to overcome barriers to getting the right support. Also includes tips for people who want to support someone who has gone through trauma.
How can other people help?
It can be really hard if someone you care about is struggling with the effects of trauma, but there are lots of things you can do that might help.
This page has some suggestions for ways you can support them while also looking after your own wellbeing. These include:
You might be unsure of what to say or do if someone talks to you about trauma. It could help if you:
- Give them time. Let them talk at their own pace – it's important not to pressure or rush them.
- Focus on listening. Try to respect what they are choosing to share, rather than asking lots of questions.
- Accept their feelings. For example, allow them to be upset about what has happened.
- Don't blame them or criticise their reactions. You might wonder why they didn't do something differently, but they survived however they could at the time.
- Use the same words they use. People vary in how they prefer to describe their experiences. For example, it's their choice whether to talk about being a 'victim' or 'survivor' of trauma.
- Don't dismiss their experiences. For example, don't tell them not to worry about things or that it could be worse – this isn't usually helpful to hear. Try to remember that people can't choose what they find traumatic or how they're affected.
- Only give advice if you're asked to. They might prefer to simply hear that you believe them and are there for them.
Accepting that I can show my vulnerability without fear of reprisal or punishment has been a big step... to do this I have had to explain to those closest to me how vulnerable I am... and many times when I appear to be the exact opposite.
It might help to ask if any situations or conversations might trigger flashbacks or difficult feelings. For example, they might be particularly distressed by loud noises or arguments. Understanding their triggers could help you to avoid these situations, and feel more prepared when they have reactions such as flashbacks.
If you've not gone through trauma yourself or you feel differently about shared experiences, it can be hard to understand why your friend or family member can't seem to 'move on'. It's understandable to wish things could improve, but it's important not to blame them or put pressure on them to get better without the time and support they need.
If you're worried about someone, it's understandable to want to help them improve things or to feel frustrated if they disagree about what to do.
But traumatic experiences usually involve being powerless or having control taken away from you. So if you pressure them or tell them what to do, this might add to their feelings of powerlessness.
Instead, try to encourage and support them to make their own choices.
Accepting support from those closest to me has been tough [because] I always had to be the strong one.
Don't share details of what they've gone through unless you have their permission. For example, they might not want you to tell mutual friends or family members about what has happened to them.
If they want you to, you could help them find further support. For example:
- You could look through the list of relevant organisations in our pages on useful contacts for trauma and useful contacts for PTSD.
- Our pages on supporting someone who is self-harming and supporting someone who feels suicidal can help if someone you care about is harming themselves or struggling with thoughts of suicide.
It's important to remember that your mental health matters too. Our pages on supporting someone else to seek help, how to cope when supporting someone else, managing stress and maintaining your wellbeing all have lots of information and tips on how to look after yourself.
This information was published in January 2020. We will revise it in 2022.
References and bibliography available on request.
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