The Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health says some of the ways you can help them return to their normal routine include:
- Recognise that they have been through an extremely stressful event and may need time and space to deal with it. You can help them find that time and space by providing practical support such as offering to take care of the kids or do the weekly shopping.
- Encourage them to limit their exposure to media coverage of the event. You might offer to keep track of the news and inform them of new or important information so they don't feel the need to monitor it continuously.
- Join them in doing enjoyable things and encourage them to plan at least one enjoyable thing each day. You may need to help the person come up with ideas of things they can do. For example, ask what activities they used to enjoy before the traumatic event.
- Acknowledge their achievements. Sometimes it's hard to see that things are improving and the person may need you to point out when they have achieved a goal, no matter how small.
- Encourage them to seek professional help if they are still finding it hard to cope more than two weeks after the traumatic event.
Remember your friend or family member may or may not want to talk about their experience or feelings.
If they do want to talk, the following tips may be helpful.
- Choose a time to talk when you won't be interrupted, or feel rushed or tired.
- Provide reassurance that distress is to be expected after an experience like theirs.
- Understand that talking about trauma can be painful and the person may get upset. This is a natural part of coming to terms with their experience. Don't feel that you have to make their distress go away.
- Make another time to talk if it seems like the person is too distressed to continue.
What to say
Listening is very important but it can sometimes be hard to know what to say.
Don't worry about having to say "the right thing". There is no right thing to say but here are a few pointers:
- Try to put yourself in their shoes - don't interrupt, offer examples from your own life or talk about yourself.
- Avoid offering simple reassurances such as "I know how you feel" or "You'll be okay".
- Acknowledge their distress with statements like: "It's really tough to go through something like this", "This is such a tough time for you", or "Sometimes it's hard to see light at the end of the tunnel".
- Ask leading questions like: "Would it be helpful to talk about (the event)?", "You've had a rough time - how are you going?" or "How's Sarah going?".
- Show that you understand by rephrasing the information they give you. Try starting with something like: "It sounds like...", "Did I understand right that...." or "No wonder you feel...".
For more information on how to help others from the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health click here
This article was first published in The Land's 2013 Glove Box Guide to Mental Health. To read more from the guide, click here.