Ever since David’s school bus got into an accident last summer, he’s felt jittery, irritable, and easily frightened. He’s having trouble concentrating in school, and feels sick every time he even rides in a car. He’ll be old enough to get his driver’s license at the end of this year, and while all of his friends are already enrolled in Driver’s Ed, David isn’t sure that he’ll ever be okay getting behind the wheel. His friends and parents want to help, but aren’t sure how. Will David ever feel normal again?
How can you get help after you experience a traumatic event?
Like many teens who have experienced a potentially traumatic event, David may sometimes feel like his life will never be normal again. But fortunately, there are several ways that you can ease or alleviate the symptoms of trauma. If you notice that after a month you’re still suffering, or that the memory of the traumatic incident is affecting your everyday life, it may be time to seek help.
-Trauma can make you feel like you’re on your own, so reaching out to the people you love and trust can help you feel less afraid
-Open up to your loved ones about your trauma, if you can. Allowing them to validate and understand your experience will help them understand what you’re going through.
-Talk to your parents, your rabbi, your doctor, or your school counselor about what you’ve been through, or even just tell them that you’d like help dealing with some of your anxiety. They can find you a professional to talk to.
-Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help veterans cope with PTSD symptoms.
-Focusing on outdoor activities can be peaceful, relaxing, and empowering — especially if the activity is strenuous or challenging.
-Some people find it soothing to go to regular worship services and to be part of a prayer community, even if they don’t know all the prayers or their meanings. Check out the Shabbat or weekday services at your community synagogues and see if any feels right for you. Bring a friend along (even if he or she isn’t Jewish), so you won’t feel alone or self-conscious.
-Recite a prayer that has special meaning and comfort for you. Some ideas:
-The Mi Sheberakh prayer about healing. (The late songwriter Debbie Friedman created a popular musical adaptation. Click here for lyrics and a recording.)
-The “Hashivanu” prayer (Lamentations 5:21) about connecting with God
-Or write your own prayer or meditation, using words that give you comfort
Get professional help
-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other types of therapy can be extremely helpful in dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event
-Therapists can also talk to you about other treatment options, such as medication, programs or group therapy provided by treatment centers, or other activities that may be help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.
-Check the website of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to find organizations that specialize in PTSD and trauma in teens and young adults.
How can you help a friend who has been through a trauma?
A friend or loved one may not want or know how to ask for help after a trauma—they may feel embarrassed, ashamed, afraid, or worried that others will judge them. There are several ways to help your friend or loved one, even if they don’t ask you for help directly.
–DO let your friend or loved one know that you are here to listen and not judge, and remind them that you are willing to help when they’re ready.
–DON’T pressure them to talk about the trauma with you—just let them know that you’re available if they need to or want to talk.
–DO educate yourself about PTSD and trauma. Check out resources like the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
–DON’T assume that your friend’s experience is just like everyone else’s — let them tell the story of what happened to them, and decide on their own what treatment feels right.
–DO be patient with your loved one as they go through recovery.
-DON’T get frustrated if they aren’t recovering as quickly as you’d like or hope. Remember: They also want to get better.
–DO take care of yourself.
–DON’T burn out trying to take care of your friend. You won’t be much help to them if you’re frustrated, exhausted, or sick.
–DO reach out for help if you need it. You don’t have to take care of your friend alone, so contact their parents or another trusted adult if you’re feeling like you’re in over your head.
–DON’T feel like you have to do it all alone or keep this secret forever. You should encourage your friend to share their experience with a therapist or their parents. Not only will it help them to talk about it and get treatment, but you’ll help yourself feel less burdened as well.
–DO be supportive and understanding of what they’ve been through.
–DON’T beat yourself up if you sometimes have complicated feelings about your loved one. It’s okay to sometimes feel frustrated or angry about what they’ve been through or how they’re responding to treatment. Just remember that you still love them, which is why you want to help.
Special thanks to our experts:
-Rochelle F. Hanson, Ph.D., Professor at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center (NCVC) and Director of the NCVC Family and Child Program
-Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina