Your Service Member is Experiencing PTSD; What Can You Do to Help?

It has been estimated that up to 20% of service members returning to the United States from combat will experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some don’t believe that estimate, however, as it has been argued that 20% is much too low, and that the majority of returning service members will experience similar symptoms at some point, whether it be paranoia, nightmares, memory problems, or something else entirely.


Regardless of which number is more accurate, 100% of these service members return to someone—mother, father, spouse, sister, brother, friend. And, whomever it is that they return to, they will likely witness a change in their loved one. It can be difficult to not only understand, but to accept, and that’s why we’ve compiled this list.

Below, and on the pages that follow, you’ll find suggestions on how to help your loved one through the transition back to civilian life. As every instance of Combat PTSD is different, we do not expect these suggestions to work for each and every person, or that they can serve as a cure to any of the symptoms. They are merely suggestions.

Before we get to them, however, let’s look at some common symptoms of Combat PTSD, as well as the physiological effects that spur these symptoms:

Common Symptoms:

-depression/loss of interest


-paranoia/anxiety/avoiding crowds/obsessive rituals

-avoiding reminders of combat

-road rage

-memory problems

-survivor’s guilt


-alcohol or drug abuse

Physiological Effects:

-exaggerated adrenaline response

-decrease in ‘gray matter’, which indicates neuron damage (neurons handle the communication responses within our body and brain)

-atrophy of hippocampus (hippocampus is part of brain responsible for short-term memory)

-increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (prefrontal cortex is part of brain responsible for resolving conflicts and making decisions)

Suggestion #1: Grieve

Combat has changed the person in front of you, maybe to the point of him or her being so far from what you remember of them as prior to their deployment. But so have you. It has been a long process, and now you’re both faced with something new. In order to move forward, you have to try and forget that idea of returning to the past. This shift in attitude can prepare you for the hardships that may come about.

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