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Post-trauma stress disorder can affect many

Updated: October 20, 2012 6:05AM

Last week we honored the memory of the many men and women we lost during 9/11.

The devastating effect this tragedy had on Americans is difficult to describe, and for many, the emotional trauma of the event lasted long after the smoke cleared. From survivors to family members to emergency personnel many people suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) as a result of 9/11.

Sadly, PTSD is not an uncommon issue in our society, especially when it comes to the brave men and women who serve in our military. Thousands of returning soldiers grapple with this issue, and the effects of PTSD can be incredibly damaging especially if left untreated. In 2011, more than 160 soldiers committed suicide, and it has been confirmed by the Army that there have been more than 60 suicides this year.

However, military personnel aren’t the only ones at risk of this disorder. PTSD can occur following any traumatic event whether it’s an assault or a car accident. Treating the disorder can be very tricky, particularly because symptoms can differ widely.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of PTSD can include: nightmares; flashbacks; feelings of tension such as being on edge and jumpy; feelings of numbness or lack of emotion; depression; guilt; anxiety; difficulty sleeping; fits of uncontrolled anger.

Post-traumatic stress disorder also can result in alcohol or drug abuse, which only further exacerbates the problem and can muddy the waters when it comes to diagnosis and treatment. PTSD can be very hard on the loved ones of the suffering individual. If your partner has PTSD, it can be difficult to know what to do or how to help, especially if he or she seems resistant to even discussing the issue.

There are several ways you can help to support your partner during this difficult time. First, encourage your partner to talk to a therapist or use resources geared toward their needs (for example, the Veterans Administra will be a good tool for returning vets, while victims of sexual assault or rape could turn to a resource such as for help). Second, try to find out ways you can help your partner cope. For example, if you know that your partner is triggered by loud noises, you can avoid events where there might be blaring music, fireworks, loud car engines, etc.

Mediation and quiet reading before bed might help your partner sleep better at night, as opposed to watching a crime TV. show right before lights out. You also can commit to a healthier lifestyle, such as exercising more or by taking up a sport together.

Third, realize that you must set some boundaries and practice good self-care. You can’t take on your partner’s problems as your own or “fix” them through love and sheer will. Healing is personal and can only be accomplished by the person with PTSD — but you can support them with love, open communication, and plenty of patience.

If you believe that you or a loved one might be suffering from PTSD, you are not alone and there is help available. Visit or call the PTSD Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of

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