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How Can I Help My Friend with PTSD During COVID-19?

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From a teen in the U.S.: My former roommate and good friend has recently been diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD from growing up on a military base.  In light of COVID-19, they’ve moved back in with their parents, four hours away from me.  Their home situation isn’t great; their parents can be borderline emotionally abusive, they’re not receiving nutritious food, they’ve recently been denied an emotional support animal, and even without the quarantine they have no means of leaving their house.

Lately they’ve been getting sick a lot and waking up from nightmares almost every night. On the bright side they’re keeping in contact with their therapist, but they’ve jokingly compared themself to “zoo animal hopelessly pacing its cage.”

Back when we lived together, I provided as much comfort as I could–baked goods, crafts, movies, or just hugs and someone to be around.  Now all I can do is let them explain their problems over text and hope I can offer something more than my sympathy. We’ve begun to discuss them visiting me for a week or so in the future, but that won’t happen until COVID travel bans are lifted. I’m also trying not to burn out myself, but I know how much they need someone consistently there right now.

Is there more I can do to help my friend? I’m not exactly a psychologist, nor have I tried to be, but I’ve never felt like there was so little I could do for them.

How Can I Help My Friend with PTSD During COVID-19?

Answered by on -


Your friend is fortunate to have such a caring friend. Living on military bases is not a precursor to PTSD. If that were true, there would be millions of family members of military personnel with the diagnosis. It’s likely that there is more to this story than you know.

Do bear in mind that the only information you have about your friend’s living situation is from them. It’s possible that they don’t know how to have a caring relationship with you that isn’t grounded in sympathy. It’s possible that living with the parents is a positive step. It’s possible that they may be feeling so down that they aren’t seeing options for taking better care of themself. It’s likely they could get outside for a walk or just to sit in the sun. It’s possible they could make meals for themself or offer to make meals for the parents as well. There are probably ways to make the best of the situation.

You are right: The bright side is that they are keeping in touch with a therapist. If they are open to it, I suggest the two of you consider a zoom session with the therapist to talk about how you can best be of help. In situations like yours, it’s very important that you (as a friend) be supportive in a way the therapist agrees is supportive. It’s possible to unknowingly dilute treatment by inadvertently diverting the client from what the therapist wants them to think about and do.

Meanwhile, I am concerned that your friend’s problems became too central to your life. You may be feeling at loose ends now that your time has been freed up to do other things. Do take care of yourself. Balance your care and concern for your friend with other relationships that are fun and nurturing for you. You can’t help someone else unless you keep yourself emotionally strong and healthy through good relationships and meaningful work.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Can I Help My Friend with PTSD During COVID-19?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2020). How Can I Help My Friend with PTSD During COVID-19?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Jun 2020 (Originally: 28 Jun 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 Jun 2020
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