For so many of us, the holidays are a time of joy and magic and spending time with those we love. But for others, like some Veterans and their families, the holidays can be difficult. It can be a painful reminder of the past, and gathering together can feel stressful and daunting to someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here are five ways you can support a Veteran, Active Duty servicemember, or their families.
1. Be aware of what they may be feeling.
The holidays can trigger feelings of “survivor’s guilt” for people who have served and have lost friends and fellow soldiers. As mentioned before, the season of gathering can also trigger PTSD, worsen fatigue, and increase depression and anxiety. Being aware and understanding of these difficulties can go a long way to supporting Veterans during the holidays.
Make the Veteran in your life feel welcome and loved. Ask them how they’re doing, what their needs are, and how you can best support them. To make the holidays as comfortable as possible for them, communicate before any gatherings to see what you can do to make sure they feel safe and included.
3. Never shame or guilt-trip.
If a Veteran tells you they do not want to participate in a certain activity or they don’t feel comfortable attending an event, don’t shame them or add guilt to what they’re already feeling. Respond with love and understanding and know that they’re doing the best they can and it’s not personal.
4. Prepare other family members.
The holidays often bring extended family members who may not be aware of the struggles the Veteran in your life is facing. Letting family members know what to expect before gathering can help them be aware of what not to say, and it can also help spread awareness of what Veterans face. Let family members know how they can better support Veterans and their families and what questions are appropriate (and inappropriate) to ask. Be careful not to disclose any personal information that is not yours to share.
5. Find new traditions.
Since the holidays can be a painful reminder of the past and of things that used to bring joy, starting new traditions can be a great way to move forward and experience joy again. To better support a Veteran, Active Duty servicemember, or families of Veterans, make new traditions that take into account their struggles and fears. For example, instead of going shopping at a large store together, shop online and exchange gifts in smaller groups.
If you or a loved one needs help:
As always, the Veterans Crisis Line will be available throughout the winter holiday season including Christmas and New Year’s. The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of whom are Veterans themselves. Connect through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.
Add the number to your phone contacts because although you may not need to call them now, you may need to in the future for yourself or to help someone else.