In a few days, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be upon us. While most people can still remember where they were when they first heard about the attacks, for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the anniversary can be extra painful, for a variety of reasons.
According to a recent NY Times article:
One measure of the psychological impact of 9/11 is this: At least 10,000
firefighters, police officers and civilians exposed to the terrorist attack
on the World Trade Center have been found to have post-traumatic stress
disorder, and in a kind of mass grieving, many of them have yet to recover,
according to figures compiled by New York City’s three 9/11 health programs.
PTSD is a diagnosis that has generated a lot of controversy since it was listed in the DSM thirty years ago. Your partner might not have developed PTSD as a direct result of the 9/11 tragedy, but perhaps they subsequently fought in a war that came out of the terrorist attacks, or they suffered some other trauma that is still haunting them now. The anniversary of 9/11 is going to have a lot of media coverage, and your partner may experience extra anxiety or exacerbation of symptoms during this time, even if their PTSD is not directly 9/11-related.
What to watch for in your partner
Here are some of the common symptoms of PTSD:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event, either through dreams, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts they feel they can’t control, or having mental or physical reactions when reminded of the event
- Feeling disconnected from others, or actually distancing themselves from others
- Having a limited range of emotions
- Having a sense of a shortened future
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hypervigilance–checking the doors and windows, not being able to relax, watching everyone around them
- Poor sleep
- Being easily startled
- Irritability and angry outbursts
How to help your partner
- Try to avoid the media coverage of the 9/11 anniversary, at least in the presence of your partner. If they are insisting on watching it, be there with them, and talk with them about their feelings.
- If your partner is not currently in treatment, have a conversation about getting them some therapy.
- Distract your partner. Get out of the house and do a favorite activity together: movies, meal out, shopping, dancing, volunteering, hiking, biking…
- Connect with others who are going through what you and your partner are going through. Start here with an online forum for general PTSD or here for a forum that’s military-related.
- Offer your partner your presence. Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything to help: just being there is enough. But that means really being there, as in, no distractions. Turn off the cell phone, leave the iPad in the other room.