This is my second scenario and a Do’s and Don’t list for helping someone with mental suffering.
To read my introduction to this series and Scenario 1 , please see older posts at this blog.
Scenario 2 –
Sarah calls you and is in Post Traumatic Stress. Something at work triggered her. She tells you she is in a state of terrible fear. She feels like her job is in danger. She feels like there is an imminent threat to her financial stability. Then she tells you that feels like she will die soon. The walls of her house are closing in on her. She feels like an animal trapped in a cage ready to be eaten.
She cries and says she wants to kill herself. She would rather kill herself than be eaten.
Don’t Say – You are being really dramatic and unrealistic.
(Sarah is not being a drama queen. In the post traumatic stress state, her perception of immediate danger is very real. The amygdala part of the brain goes into hyper alert state and tells the person to choose fight or flight. When someone is in post traumatic stress, fight or flight state, they tend to have an overwhelming urge to run. They want to run but there is no where to run to. This is a terrifying place to be.)
Don’t Say – You are acting like a child. You need to grow up and act like an adult.
(It is not uncommon for someone to regress into a child state during a ptsd attack.It is the brain’s way of protecting itself. The person has no control over it.
Even if you were to force them out of the regression too early, it would be dangerous for their mind. There is always the possibility of a person’s brain becoming disorganized permanently)
Don’t Say – Did you take your meds today?
( Unless they specifically asked you to be in charge of whether or not they take their medication, this comment is condescending. What meds they have taken today is not the point. It is not what they are asking you for help with
They are asking for help with their fear. Bringing up the meds feels like an accusation and like you are saying it is their fault for not taking their meds properly. It takes the focus off of what they are saying to you. They need to be heard, not have you change the subject.)
Don’t Say – Just think positive thoughts.
(If they were able to think positive thoughts they would. The fear part of the brain is sending intrusive terrifying thoughts to their mind. They want it to stop.)
Do Say – You are in a post traumatic stress state. I understand that you feel very threatened. You are not in any immediate danger. Your brain is sending signals to make you feel that way.
Do Say – You are in a state of post traumatic stress.
Is there anything I can do to help you to reduce the level of fear and anxiety ?
Do Say – Something has triggered you to flashback to your original trauma
You feel like your danger level is the same as that situation. That was a horrible thing that happened to you. But your current situation is not the same. It feels that way because it has a similarity to the original trauma.
Do Say – I know you feel afraid and threatened
You had a terrible trauma and something has triggered you to feel the same way you did then. You are safe right now. You are not in danger. Your feelings are an attack of your brain on you. You are safe. Nothing terrible is going to happen. You are safe now.
Do Say – You are safe. I am here for you. You are safe.