How to Talk About Your PTSD Diagnosis

Group counseling
Martin Barraud/Caiaimage/Getty Images

It can be difficult for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to share the news of their diagnosis with others, but it doesn't have to be. While individuals with PTSD don't need to disclose their diagnosis to anyone and everyone, it's important not to keep the condition from loved ones. After all, your loved ones are likely to see the symptoms of the disorder and how they affect you.

Moreover, loved ones can be an excellent source of social support, which has been found to be incredibly beneficial for people with PTSD. Social support may speed up recovery from PTSD and help someone overcome the effects of a traumatic event.

Still, telling others about a PTSD diagnosis can be a stressful thing. Learn the best way to break the news with the tips that follow. 

Learn About the Diagnosis of PTSD

Before you tell anyone about your PTSD diagnosis, it is important that you understand the diagnosis yourself. Learn as much as you can about PTSD, which is often misunderstood. It is very possible that your loved ones will have many questions for you about PTSD. Make sure that you can address those questions or, at the very least, direct them to resources to get their questions answered.

Some people find it helpful to print out information which describes the symptoms of PTSD and important information ahead of time. This way they can not only share what they are feeling but give their loved ones something concrete to continue to read and think about after the discussion.

Identify People That You Trust and Who Can Provide Support

You do not need to tell everyone about your PTSD. Share the information with those people who are going to be understanding, trustworthy, nonjudgmental, and supportive. In other words, don't share the news with the family gossip or the loved one likely to criticize you about the disorder. Anyone who has a history of such toxic behaviors should be eliminated from your list of confidants.

You may even wish to review some of the types of toxic friends and read some tips on how to avoid toxic people in your life. Toxic people not only do not pay proper respect for the honor of having you share your deep feelings but take time away from the good relationships that can help you heal.

Set Aside a Time to Tell Others

After you identify the individuals you are going to tell about your PTSD diagnosis, make sure you set aside a good time to do so. Allow yourself the time needed to share the diagnosis, nerves and all. Consider that the person you tell may react emotionally to the news, so make sure that you make the disclosure in a place and at a time that is not stressful for you.

Invite a friend over for tea. Take a family member out to lunch. You want to set up a situation where you have the person's undivided attention.

Choose What to Disclose

You do not need to tell your loved ones everything. For example, you do not need to disclose specific information or specific details about your traumatic event. You are in control: what to disclose is completely up to you. Give them enough information to understand the diagnosis and what they can do to help.

If someone asks you an uncomfortable question that you do not want to answer, it is perfectly okay to simply say, "I'm sorry, but I am not ready to talk about that yet." Prepare beforehand by coming up with some things you can say if someone asks you a question you do not want to answer. You can blame us here at Verywell if necessary, quoting us as saying that you do not need to talk about those specific details now, or anytime in the future. (You may feel very vulnerable as you cope with PTSD, and need to know that people have your back.) Your friends and family members who will support you will be comfortable with that reply. A true friend will want to support you no matter the history behind your symptoms.

Eliminate Confusion About PTSD

Be prepared to give your friend or family member the basics on PTSD. Tell them what symptoms commonly occur in PTSD and why. If you are telling someone who is going to be providing you with social support, it is important that they have a good foundation of knowledge on PTSD. They need to understand why certain symptoms and behaviors occur, what they look like and how they can be addressed.

Talk to Others With PTSD

If you know other people with PTSD, talk with them to see how they disclosed their diagnosis to loved ones. What worked well for them? What would they do differently if they had to do it again? You can gain some valuable information from the experiences of others with PTSD or who are recovering from PTSD. There are many support groups and online support communities for people living with PTSD. It may take a while to find the right group, but once you do, the group can be a wonderful base for you. Touch base and ask away. Others who have walked this walk will likely have many ideas to help you as you share your diagnosis, that someone who hasn't walked that path would never know.

Prepare Yourself in Case They Don't Understand

Finally, prepare yourself for the possibility that someone may not be supportive or understanding of what you are going through. Sometimes people may not be ready to hear what you have to tell them. This can be a very difficult experience to encounter, and it has the potential to make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.

It may also prevent you from seeking out support from others. Before you tell anyone about your PTSD, make sure you have some coping skills ready to deal with the possibility that someone may not give you the response you want.

Keep in mind that some people, perhaps those closest to you that you most need to understand, never will. That doesn't mean they are bad people. Those who haven't experienced PTSD or anything near PTSD may never understand. Don't forget that there is a huge community of people out there who will understand. That doesn't mean that you need to abandon those closest to you. We often need different things from different people, and in this area, you may need to get your support from others who have faced similar enough challenges that they understand your need to share and not feel alone.

In some cases, loved ones may be experiencing their own form of PTSD. Take a moment to consider this as a possibility. It's not uncommon for a couple to both have elements of PTSD, and both be struggling to a point at which their strength isn't sufficient to support the other. This is when support groups and others come into play beautifully. You may both need support so that you can face this disorder together.

For Loved Ones

If your loved one has recently divulged their journey with PTSD you may be experiencing a myriad of emotions yourself. None of us like to see anyone hurt, and seeing a loved one hurting can be worse than hurting ourselves. Check out ideas on how PTSD in a loved one can affect you so that you can care for yourself as you reach out to your loved one.

Remember, You Are in Control

In the end, it is important for you to know that you do not have to disclose your PTSD to anyone before you are ready. You are in control. You decide who to disclose your diagnosis to and when.

PTSD is never a sign of weakness, and it is never the fault of the person with the diagnosis. Surrounding yourself with people who understand, care for and support you can greatly reduce the stigma around a PTSD diagnosis and aid in recovery. PTSD can be a very difficult diagnosis to cope with; however, recovery is definitely possible.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Diehle, J., Brooks, S., and N. Greeberg. . Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2017. 52(1):35-44.

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.