Ask the Expert, Tamar Rodney, PhD, PMHNP-BC: Invisible and Visible PTSD Symptoms and Getting Help

My sister was mugged and I think she is experiencing PTSD. She doesn’t want to get help but if she waits too long will she be less likely to recover? In this video, Dr. Rodney answers your questions about mental health treatment.

Tamar Rodney, PhD, PMHNP-BC, CNE is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Her research and clinical work focus primarily on improving PTSD diagnosis and treatment.

For information about treatments for PTSD please visit The Treatment Hub.

Hi. I’m Dr. Tamar Rodney. I’m a psych mental health nurse practitioner. And our question is: “My sister was mugged, and I think she’s experiencing PTSD. She won’t go out, leaves all the lights on, and acts like an overall scared person; something she never was before. She doesn’t want to get help, but if she waits too long, will she be less likely to recover?”

And again, thank you for such a wonderful question and such a caring, thoughtful way of asking for someone else. And this is honestly how most trauma and experience of trauma gets reported, by a person who is watching on and seeing that there’s changes in that individual’s behavior. I will say that what we are describing, an event, that mugging that your sister experienced, and the way her behavior has changed that you’ve described, that this was not her before, is classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. So, yes, this is – your sister does need to get engaged with help.

But I would also say the useful part here is that you are her first point of help, recognizing that something is wrong and asking the right questions. I’m going to go a little bit deeper here to say a couple things about how she’s experiencing and as a family member, a concern of what we should be looking for is. What she’s showing you is the things you can see, and I say those are the symptoms that we see, but also be mindful that there are things that she might be doing or activities she might be engaging in that you’re not able to see, and so that is equally worrying.

And so, not going out, leaving the lights on, and acting like an overall scared person, those are classic signs of, one, recall and avoidance, negative mood, and hyperarousal. But there are also a set of symptoms that we classify as intrusion symptoms. And so these are like nightmares that she might be experiencing that you’re not able to see and she’s not able to – she doesn’t have to disclose those to you because those are terrifying.

In terms of the timeline, that she doesn’t want to get help, again, take a minute to think of how terrifying this is to even accept that this is not myself and that she might not also be able to put them in this nice unique box that these are related to post-traumatic stress order. This is simply a reaction to something terrible. Is she more less likely to recover? No. As long as an individual engages in, I want to say, therapy, help, engaging in the care that she needs, it puts you on the journey to recovery.

And I truly want to say that recovery is a journey; it just needs to start. And I will say kudos to you for even recognizing it because this is the start of her recovery journey that someone else cares and can either seek help for her or encourage her to seek help, but hopefully sooner rather than later just to reduce that effect on her. So, thank you again for being so caring and for looking out for your sister and being that person who should encourage her to do seek the help that she needs.

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Posted on BrainLine November 17, 2021. Reviewed November 17, 2021.