Robert Shulman, MD: How Family Members Can Steer Their Loved One with PTSD Toward Help

Telling your loved one with PTSD that you cherish them, you care about them, and that you will help them if they will let you is a powerful first step toward getting that person needed treatment. You can’t take on someone else’s suffering—unproductive, anyway—but you can steer them toward the resources and providers who can help them.

Robert Shulman, MD is the director of the Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center, part of the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior Care Network

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

If you have a family member, someone you love, someone you know who’s showing symptoms, how can you get them help? Willingness to talk about things is key. Willingness to say to somebody “are you okay, are you having difficulties, what’s bothering you, what’s hurting you? Let me help you.” If you say to them, “How can I help,” and they shrug their shoulders, sometimes you have to say “let me help you.” This is related to battle, let’s look and see what resources there are, let’s call someone. Let’s call the hotline, let’s see what’s out there for you. I think families can usually educate themselves pretty well. I mean, it’s usually not a sudden thing. It builds up and they’re able to recognize the changes. The key is not to be angry at someone and not to reject people, but just to give the message “I love you, I care about you, I’m going to help you. You have to let me help you, you have to trust me to get you someplace for help.” They can’t take responsibility, they shouldn’t take responsibility for another person’s health, but they can take responsibility for trying to steer them someplace. In the long run, as I like to teach residents and students, that we can’t own somebody else’s suffering. We can’t take it on for ourselves. We can’t suffer for them. It’s non-productive. If someone is – “I’m depressed because my spouse is depressed”, that’s not productive, it doesn’t do anybody any good. It makes it about themselves and not trying to help the other person. So, it’s really just the recognition someone is suffering and just to say I recognize it, I want to help, let’s do this. BrainLine is powered in part by Wounded Warrior Project to honor and empower post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families.

Posted on BrainLine September 29, 2021. Reviewed September 29, 2021.

About the author: Robert B. Shulman, MD

Robert Shulman, MD is the Director of Road Home Program and currently acting chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center and Mental Health Service Line Director for the Rush University System for Health. He is a graduate of Lewis & Clark College and The Chicago Medical School (with many clinical rotations at the VA Hospital).

Professional headshot of Dr. Robert Shulman smiling at the camera, wearing a white doctor's coat, with a tall building in the background