A Helpful Guide
The death of a loved one is a difficult time for anyone. But for someone suffering from PTSD, experiencing a death can be extremely difficult. In some cases, death may be the cause PTSD. What is PTSD and how does it affect the grieving process?
Below is a helpful guide for understanding PTSD and grief and how to help yourself of someone you know cope through a difficult time.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) occurs in some people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. It’s classified as a psychiatric disorder characterized by both physical and psychological symptoms. What a person considers to be a traumatizing event is relative to the individual. But most common events that trigger PTSD in people are war crimes or combat, terrorist attacks, rape or sexual harassment, kidnapping, serious accidents, serious injury, close death encounters, and even natural disasters.
These events needn’t be experienced firsthand to trigger PTSD in someone. Being a firsthand witness or continually being in close contact with traumatic events can also be triggering, such as a police officer who frequently investigates murder scenes or child abuse.
People with PTSD have difficulty moving forward from their experiences. They may feel like they are continuously reliving their trauma and therefore find it difficult to function normally.
Who Does PTSD Affect?
PTSD is common among war combat veterans but anyone regardless of their occupation, gender, or race can experience PTSD. PTSD may even be experienced by someone who is deeply affected by the death of a loved one.
Whether or not they witnessed their loved one pass in front of them. They may experience PTSD from the way in which their loved one passed (if it was from a random violent act or freak accident) or from not being able to cope with their absence in their life.
Anyone at any age can develop PTSD, even children. While most people will experience at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime, not everyone develops PTSD. Why some people develop PTSD and others don’t isn’t 100 percent clear. However, there are known risk factors for developing PTSD which include:
EXPERIENCING A TRAUMATIC EVENT AT A YOUNG AGE
Children are more impressionable and have less life experience. A traumatic event may affect them more deeply because they have yet to develop the necessary mental capacity to understand it. Unfortunately, childhood trauma can stay with someone well into adulthood if they do not receive the help or support, they need.
NOT HAVING ENOUGH SOCIAL SUPPORT
Surviving a traumatic event leaves most people in a sensitive state. If you don’t have the right people in your life to help you through your mental distress, you are more likely to develop PTSD. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are patient and willing to let you talk about your experiences. Not having enough social support can make it more difficult to cope with PTSD.
HAVING A HISTORY OF OTHER MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS
Someone with an already fragile state of mind may experience trauma more intensely. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety are a risk factor for PTSD and can make the condition worse. If you have a history of mental health problems and experience trauma, it’s important to get the help you need.
GETTING INJURED OR SEEING SOMEONE ELSE GET INJURED DURING AN EVENT
A gruesome injury can leave a mark on your mind long after the injury itself has healed. The pain and fear felt during the time of a serious injury sticks with you. It’s a reminder of how you never want to feel again. PTSD can develop after a serious injury because a person had such a terrible time recovering from their injury. It may make them avoid anything that could potentially cause them injury, even in the slightest.
HAVING ADDITIONAL STRESS ON TOP OF THE EMOTIONAL EVENT
Additional stress, like losing a job or the death of a loved one, can make any traumatic event more difficult to cope with. Too much stress can send you into a stress overload. PTSD may develop as a result.
What Are Some Symptoms Of PTSD?
There are some some common symptoms that you can watch out for if you suspect that someone you love may be suffering from PTSD.
BEING TRIGGERED BY THINGS THAT REMIND YOU OF YOUR TRAUMA
People with PTSD can have symptoms ranging from psychological to physical. Not everyone with PTSD may have the same symptoms. But most everyone will have difficulty with people or things that remind them of their past trauma.
Reminders of the traumatic event they experienced or witnessed will take them back in their mind as if they were reliving it all over again. These thoughts are intense and disturbing and can make a PTSD sufferer feel as if they are physically experiencing the event in the present.
For example, a person suffering PTSD from a near death experience from drowning may be extremely uncomfortable around water. Being near a pool, beach, lake, or even a filled bathtub may cause them intense anxiety.
They will begin to relive their experience of drowning vividly in their imagination. Their body may even physically react to the mind’s belief that the lungs are being drowned by water. The person may feel as if they can’t breathe, though the sensation is purely psychological.
INTENSE NIGHTMARES & FLASHBACKS
PTSD sufferers commonly relive their trauma both in waking life and their dreams. They may experience intensely frightening nightmares that take them back to the event. These nightmares or night terrors can affect their sleep and make bedtime something they dread. Nightmares or visions can visit them in waking life as well with unexpected flashbacks.
A PTSD sufferer may experience frequent flashbacks to the event either brought on by a trigger or from seemingly out of nowhere.
Flashbacks to the events feel real in the PTSD sufferers mind and can cause them great distress. Which in turn can make it difficult for them to participate in their daily activities like work or social settings.
After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, it’s normal to feel an array of emotions. Someone with PTSD will have a much harder time dealing with their negative emotions and let them turn into habitual negative thinking. They may have a pessimistic view of the world or themselves. They may feel like there is no good left in this world or have bitter feelings towards others.
GUILT OR SHAME
In some cases, such as with combat veterans or sexual assault survivors, PTSD sufferers may feel intense guilt or shame. A war veteran may feel as if they didn’t deserve to live while their comrades died. He or she may feel shameful or guilty for not doing more to save them.
In the case of the sexual assault survivor, he or she may feel that they somehow brought it on themselves. They might feel like they deserved what happened to them or that they didn’t try hard enough to stop it from happening. In both cases, PTSD sufferers may take these negative feelings out on themselves or those around them.
DEPRESSION OR MENTAL ILLNESS
PTSD sufferers are more prone to developing depression. Mood disorders and mental illness are just some of the complications of PTSD. Reliving their traumatic experiences makes it hard for them to focus on the good things in front of them. They may lose all interest in things they once enjoyed doing. Depression due to PTSD can feel like all hope is lost and that there is nothing left for them.
These thinking patterns lead them down into a dark place that can be difficult to crawl out of. Some PTSD sufferers may experience suicidal thoughts. Their past trauma affects them so intensely they may feel the only way out is death.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or has talked about hurting themselves, seek professional help immediately.
ANXIETY, RESTLESSNESS OR IRRITABILITY
It’s not uncommon for PTSD sufferers to have a change in mood rather frequently. They may have anxious thoughts or feelings, especially when faced with triggers that remind them of their trauma. Anxiety can manifest itself in racing thoughts, feeling fearful for no apparent reason, fast heart rate, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and even nausea. They may feel more anxious in large crowds or fear being alone depending on the type of trauma they experienced.
Their anxiety may make them jittery or restless. They may feel uncomfortable being in one place for too long and have a fear of loud noises. Other times PTSD may make someone more irritable or angry.
PTSD sufferers have a hard time dealing with their feelings and emotions. Taking out their anger and frustrations on other people may be the only way they know how to cope.
ISOLATING FROM OTHERS
PTSD may make you feel isolated from others. Someone who’s experienced a serious trauma may find it more difficult to relate to other people in their life. They feel alone in their trauma and don’t believe others can relate. PTSD sufferers will often isolate themselves from others including friends and family.
They may have such feelings of guilt, sadness, or shame that in their mind, they feel unworthy of love. Maintaining or building new relationships may be a challenge and often something a PTSD sufferer will avoid.
SELF DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR
People who experience trauma sometimes have difficulty coping with their feelings. It’s common for many PTSD sufferers to turn to self-destructive behaviors, like substance abuse, to cope. They may also resort to risky behaviors like driving too fast, taking part in dangerous activities, or hypersexuality.
How Can Grief Affect Someone With PTSD Differently?
Grief and PTSD are both complicated. Each person deals with trauma and loss in their own way. Those who suffer from PTSD and experience the sudden loss of a loved one may be affected more deeply.
Someone with PTSD is already a highly sensitive emotional state. They may be more hypersensitive to any kind of life situations, especially death. Grief can be more intense for someone who is diagnosed with PTSD.
Grief affects us all differently. Some people take more time to overcome the loss of someone they loved, others move on very quickly. How well you knew the deceased and what your relationship to them was often contributes to how long or how deeply you grieve.
Bereavement is different for everyone depending on their personality, coping skills, or other life conditions they are dealing with at the time. Prolonged grief or complicated grief is when grief or bereavement impairs your everyday life.
While mourning the loss of a loved one feels devastating for everyone, normal grief has its stages. How long people grieve may differ from person to person but eventually, they can return to life as normal. Prolonged grief or complicated grief is different.
About 1 out of every 10 people experience prolonged grief. The odds are even higher if you have PTSD. Prolonged grief is a combination of PTSD and separation distress.
Symptoms Of Prolonged Grief
Symptoms of prolonged grief are not dissimilar to symptoms of normal grief. However, those with PTSD or prolonged grief will experience these symptoms much more intensely. Their bereavement interferes with their daily lives and deteriorates their mental health. These symptoms include:
- Intense yearning or longing for the deceased. They may have an unhealthy preoccupation with or difficulty accepting the death.
- Negative thinking patterns, such as a feeling that life is unbearable, or all hope is lost.
- A wish to die themselves to join their loved one in death
- Intrusive, disturbing images of death, especially if their loved one died a violent or gruesome death.
- Avoidance of triggers or reminders of the death
COMPLICATED GRIEF & PTSD
Prolonged and complicated grief are closely linked to PTSD. People diagnosed with PTSD from previous trauma will likely experience symptoms of prolonged and complicated grief. However, the sudden loss of a loved one may trigger PTSD in someone which leads them to experiencing prolonged or complicated grief.
Someone with PTSD and complicated grief may feel unhealthy levels of guilt for how they treated their loved one in life or for surviving them. They may feel like they should have been the one to die instead. Or they may feel that they in some way contributed to their loved one’s death or were the cause of it.
Complicated grief is often accompanied by emotional numbness and feelings of emptiness. They may have difficulty planning for the future because they can’t move forward from their grief.
A person with PTSD suffering from complicated grief may have a loss of identity as if they don’t know who to be now that their loved one has passed. Their grief may lead them to isolate themselves from others and retreat more to themselves. In some cases, they may feel angry with themselves for not grieving in the “right way”.
What Are Some Ways To Get Help Dealing With PTSD?
It’s important for those experiencing PTSD and grief to seek help from professionals. If left untreated, PTSD and prolonged or complicated grief will impede your potential to lead a healthy, normal life. If you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD or prolonged and complicated grief, there are ways to get help.
TALK TO A THERAPIST
A licensed therapist or psychologist who specializes in PTSD or grief can help you unpack your difficult feelings. Lack of social support or someone’s inability to cope with their emotions can cause them to internalize their feelings.
Being able to talk to someone about what you are feeling or going through is the first step in recovering from PTSD or grief. Talking about your trauma or grief is a release. It helps you to get out your feelings or negative energy.
A trained therapist can guide you through your feelings and emotions. They will help you to open up and talk about your trauma. Therapy can help you learn to deal with your trauma or grief in a healthy manner rather than internalizing your pain or resorting to unhealthy behaviors.
You can partake in therapy either one-on-one or in a group setting. There may be local group therapy sessions at your church or community center for grief or PTSD sufferers.
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
PTSD and grief disorders can lead to mental distress and mental illness like depression or anxiety disorders. While therapy can be extremely helpful, people suffering from severe mental illness may benefit from medication.
Talk to your doctor about being prescribed medication to help with depression or anxiety. Medication is not a long-term solution but combined with cognitive therapy may help get you through the most difficult period of your struggle.
LOOK FOR VETERAN RESOURCES
If you are a veteran and are experiencing PTSD or grief disorders because of your time in service, you may qualify for veteran benefits. Contact your local Veterans Affairs (VA) office for resources to help with PTSD and grief.
They may be able to provide you with helpful information for attending group therapy sessions, doctors, and mental health professionals who specialize in veteran PTSD or grief. Many of these services will be free or low cost as part of your veteran benefits.
REACH OUT TO YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK
Being able to talk to someone you know, and trust can be therapeutic. It’s always helpful to talk about your feelings and get them off your chest. Whether you attend regular therapy sessions or not, talking to friends and loved ones is beneficial. Your friends and family love you and want to help. Let them be there for you in your time of need, they are there for you to lean on. Strong social support is important for anybody regardless of their situation.
Reach out to someone you know and trust in your social network. Often it may be a close friend or family member. But it could also be a trusted co-worker, associate, priest, preacher, or teacher. Find someone you know will be supportive and can help you find the help you need.
JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP
A group support group that focuses on grief or PTSD can be an excellent resource. Especially for those who have limited social support at home. Support groups allow people who are suffering from similar traumas to come together and share their experiences. Group therapy is helpful in letting others know that they are not alone.
PTSD and grief are lonely. You may feel as if you are the only person in the world to feel as you do. But support groups help you realize that you are not alone. There are people who understand how you are feeling because they are going through something similar.
Support groups can be a great form of therapy and social bonding. Check church groups, community centers, or local libraries for information on possible group meetups for PTSD or grief.
What Are Some Ways To Get Help Dealing With PTSD?
PRACTICE SELF CARE
During difficult times it’s easy to let yourself go. Stress and grief can make simple self-care routines like hygiene, health, and sleep go by the wayside. Those who are suffering from PTSD may lose interest in self-care, especially if they are using self-destructive habits to cope with their pain.
But not taking care of yourself can be a cycle of self-destruction in and of itself. Poor sleep, hygiene, or eating habits can make you feel sick, tired, or down in the dumps. Taking care of yourself is crucial for your health and your mood.
Don’t neglect yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep and exercise. Even a short daily walk is enough to get your heart and endorphins pumping. Take pride in your appearance and bath regularly or schedule a weekly spa appointment.
Make time to enjoy yourself by doing activities that help you relax. Getting a massage, hitting the gym, or doing something creative can be therapeutic. They can also help take your mind off your situation and give you a break from your feelings.
Being surrounded by people, places, and things that remind you of your grief or trauma can make it harder to move on. When you’re healing from loss especially, it’s important to step away from you grief. Going on a vacation, day trip, or short getaway may help you to gain a new perspective on your situation. A new environment will take you out of your head and give you somewhere new to explore. You will have something else to focus on rather than your grief or trauma. You’ll be away from daily triggers that remind you of your situation. A short getaway will give you space to breathe and relax.
Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that originated in the far East. Today, meditation is practiced worldwide and has been shown to have many benefits. Meditation is the practice of clearing one’s mind for a given period.
During this time, you can choose to focus on nothing, use visualization to focus on a specific image, or repeat a calming mantra. Meditation is said to improve focus, brain function, reduce depression and anxiety, as well as provide many other health benefits.
You can use meditation for grief or PTSD. To do it, find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and begin to focus on taking slow, deep breaths.
Concentrate on quieting your thoughts and paying attention to the present moment. Consider using visualization techniques or repeating a mantra to help you focus. Or follow a guided meditation.
Helping others less fortunate than you can help you gain a new perspective on your life. No matter how bad we got it, someone else has it worse. When you help others, you are doing good for the world and for yourself. Helping others ignites our human empathy and makes us feel grateful for what we have. It can help to take your mind off your own troubles when you’re helping someone else with theirs.
Joining a volunteer group can be a rewarding experience. You will gain a community of like-minded people who are volunteering for the greater good. You will meet people from all walks of life that will expand your horizons. If you would like, you could choose to volunteer somewhere that meant something to the deceased. It could help you feel like you are honoring their memory in some small way.
Alcohol may seem like an easy way to ease pain and help you relax. When you’re going through something as emotionally draining as PTSD and grief, it’s tempting to want to self-medicate with a glass of wine. But alcohol can worsen symptoms of PTSD or grief and interfere with treatment.
It can also lead to an addiction which will negatively impact your health and relationships. As tempting as it may be to reach for the bottle after a difficult day, remember that there are healthier ways to relax and unwind.
ENCOURAGE OPEN CONVERSATION
The best support you can offer someone with PTSD and grief is a safe space to talk openly about their feelings. Let them know that you are there for them and willing to talk whenever they would like.
Encourage open conversation for them to speak up about what’s on their mind. Talking about trauma or grief can act as a release. It’s helpful to get something off your chest when it’s been weighing on you for months, even years.
Children who suffer from PTSD or grief should especially be encouraged to speak about their feelings. Children have a harder time communicating with adults due to their age. They may also feel as if their voice isn’t important because they are so young.
Or they may not understand what it is they are feeling and have a difficult time putting that into words. Be patient with children and let them open up to you at their own pace. Do your best to let them know they can trust you and that you are there to help them.
JEWELRY FOR REMEMBRANCE
Remembrance jewelry is a way to honor and remember your deceased loved one. Cremation jewelry is jewelry that allows you to carry a small portion of your loved one’s ashes with you wherever you go. Personalized cremation jewelry can help you feel closer to your loved one and may help you cope better with their absence.
Jewelry Keepsakes offers a variety of remembrance jewelry to help with healing from loss. From cremation jewelry to thumbprint keepsakes, and photo jewelry. Each jewelry piece or keepsake can be customized to fit your style and your specifics. We offer multiple ways to keep the memory of your loved one alive and help you always keep them close to your heart.
Jewelry Made From Ashes
Jewelry made from ashes allows you to carry your loved one’s ashes with you in the form of a ring, necklace, pendant, and more. Your loved one’s ashes are incorporated into the design of the jewelry itself.
Each piece of handcrafted jewelry made from ashes from Jewelry Keepsakes is made with care and attention. We ensure your loved one’s ashes are handled appropriately and incorporated into the stone set of your jewelry. Jewelry made from ashes is a deeply personal keepsake that can aid in your grief process.
Cremation jewellery and keepsakes hold a small portion of your loved one’s ashes in a built-in compartment. Cremation jewelry can be filled by you in the comfort of your own home.
Many surviving relatives and spouses purchase cremation jewelry to carry the memory of their loved one with them close to their heart. Having a part of your deceased loved one with you can make it feel as if your loved one is still with you in both the physical and spirit sense.
Thumbprint jewelry allows you to have the most unique part of your loved one on your person wherever you are, their thumbprint. Jewelry Keepsakes can incorporate your loved one’s thumbprint into your jewelry design.
We can engrave your loved one’s thumbprint on pendants, keychains, and more. Thumbprint jewelry is a unique remembrance keepsake that gives you a more visual way to memorialize the deceased.
Photo Engraved Jewelry
Photo engraved jewelry uses laser engraving technology to delicately engrave your loved one’s image onto your choice of jewelry or keepsake. Photo jewelry makes a beautiful and personal gift for those who are grieving.
A photo engraved keepsake helps keep the memory of the deceased alive for longer. Grieving persons can look at a photo of their deceased loved one wherever they are. We are even able to engrave the name of the deceased or a special message onto the jewelry as well.
Photo Jewelry For Children
Jewelry Keepsakes offers photo engraved remembrance jewelry for children as well as adults. Remembrance jewelry for children may help a small child cope with their recent loss. It will give them a physical symbol of remembrance for their deceased loved one.
It can be the one constant in their life of ever-changing circumstances. A child will treasure their keepsake and keep it close to them for years to come.
Resources For PTSD & Grief Survivors
ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America): Helpful links to information regarding PTSD and how to help those who are suffering from PTSD.
Veterans Family United: A nonprofit that provides links to support groups and other resources for military veterans and their families.
Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD: Links to resources for veterans and their families.
Mental Health America: A helpful list of links to support groups for a variety of conditions including PTSD.
10 Best Online Grief Support Groups in 2022: Links to online grief support groups for all situations.
Guided Meditation for Grief and Loss: A 12-minute guided meditation to help you cope with grief.
YouTube.com : YouTube has thousands of free guided meditations for grief, anxiety, PTSD, and more.
Grief Counseling: A helpful article with info on how to know when to seek counseling for yourself or someone else for their grief.
Help Guide: A guide to helping children through traumatic life events.
PTSD & Grief Frequently Asked Questions
What is post traumatic grief?
Post traumatic grief is a reaction to a sudden loss of a loved one. Post traumatic grief is like PTSD in that it causes a person great emotional distress. A person with post traumatic grief will suffer from intense flashbacks or nightmares about the death, difficulty concentrating on anything but their loss, and an inability to be around things that remind them of death.
Like PTSD, post traumatic grief can negatively affect someone’s personal and work life. Post traumatic grief usually occurs in people who have lost a loved one in a gruesome or violent way. Their death can be traumatizing for them, and they will grieve more intensely than normal.
How can PTSD affect someone who has just lost a loved one?
PTSD and grief can impact each other when experienced at the same time. Someone with PTSD may have a harder time dealing with their grief after the sudden loss of a loved one. They may grieve more deeply and for much longer than normal. It can negatively impact their mental health or worsen a mental illness they currently have.
Who can be affected by PTSD?
PTSD can affect anyone of any gender at any age. Anyone who witnesses or experiences a traumatic event is at risk for developing PTSD. However, the chances are higher if the person experiences the traumatic event at a younger age. Combat veterans, sexual assault survivors, or abuse survivors are most affected by PTSD. Though, any kind of trauma can be the cause of PTSD.
How long does the symptoms of grief last for someone that has PTSD?
Symptoms of grief for those who have PTSD can last anywhere from weeks to months, to years. Everyone has their own grieving timeline but those who have post traumatic grief typically experience symptoms for much longer than normal. If you or someone you know is having difficulty getting over a loss, and symptoms are interfering with normal life, it may be time to get professional help.
Can PTSD be caused by the death of a loved one?
It is possible to develop PTSD after the death of a loved one. It’s more likely for PTSD to occur after death if the death was sudden, violent, or if the person witnessed the death firsthand. PTSD after death is more likely to occur if the person had a close relationship or bond with the deceased. PTSD caused by the death of a loved one can lead to prolonged grief or complicated grief, both of which are characterized by intense difficulty getting over a death.
What are symptoms of PTSD in children?
Children diagnosed with PTSD may exhibit symptoms different than that of adults. Symptoms of PTSD in children may include separation anxiety from their parents, trouble sleeping or nightmares, losing previously acquired skills (such as toilet training), playacting their traumatic experiences repeatedly, new phobias and anxieties (such as a fear of monsters in the closet), irritability or aggression, and aches and pains with no apparent cause.
PTSD And Moving Forward With Life
PTSD and grief coexist in the same space. PTSD is triggered by traumatic events and death itself can be traumatic for some people. Coping with PTSD and grief in a healthy manner is the best way to ensure recovery. If you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD and grief, don’t be afraid to seek help.
July 27, 2022 by Jeri K. Augustus