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Managing PTSD At Work: Employer’s Panorama

11 min read
Last Updated on 08 May, 2023

PTSD at work is rare but not inexistent. If your company focuses on employee wellbeing, then this blog is for you.

With increasing awareness of mental health conditions, companies must be mindful and proactive in effectively maintaining employee productivity and the overall working environment. But mental wellness isn’t supposed to be just concerned with mood disorders. It involves much more than that.

Depression and anxiety disorders are widespread mental health issues that are easily identifiable. But something like PTSD is hardly known to people. And to address something like this, you must be completely acquainted with the matter.

What is PTSD?

PTSD at work_What is PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder triggered by witnessing or enduring a horrific episode.

Individuals who experienced a traumatic event such as a fatal accident, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, rape, or have been assaulted with domestic abuse, saw death very closely, or suffered a severe injury may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to American Psychiatric Association, PTSD strikes about 3.5% of adults in the United States each year. And one out of 11 people will be diagnosed with it at some point in their lives.

PTSD can strike everyone, regardless of ethnicity or culture, and at any stage. However, women are more vulnerable as compared to men. But it can even be life-threatening in every scenario. One of the generally known examples is the military veterans that have been a part of wars and combat.

What part of the brain is affected by PTSD?

What part of the brain is affected by PTSD
Many folks believe that PTSD is only about feelings and emotions, but it is far more severe than that.

Several of the PTSD symptoms are intimately related to distinct brain regions. The amygdala and hippocampus are two of these regions. The others are:

  • The right inferior frontal gyrus.
  • The mid-anterior cingulate cortex.
  • Other areas of the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Certain brain regions get hyperactive as a result of PTSD, whereas others become hypoactive. Whenever an individual develops PTSD, the amygdala and the mid-anterior cingulate cortex become overstimulated.

The majorly affected parts are the Amygdala and the Prefrontal Cortex.

The amygdala is a tiny, almond-shaped part of the brain that is involved in a variety of activities, including:

  • Memory strengthening
  • Fear conditioning
  • The evaluation of threat-related stimuli
  • Mating capacities
  • The accumulation and storage of emotional memories

The frontal lobe of the brain comprises the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This area of the brain is crucial in the onset of PTSD.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for several important activities, such as:

  • Interpreting Emotions
  • Regulating Emotions
  • Coordinating attention
  • Decision Making
  • Inducting voluntary, conscious behaviors

What are the major signs and symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD at work_What are the major signs and symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms vary from person to person, and so does the severity. But the most common symptoms may include intrusive thoughts such as flashbacks or nightmares. The flashbacks can be so intense that they presume they are experiencing or witnessing the traumatic episode again.

Other than intrusive memories, avoiding things that recall the incident can also be seen in people suffering from PTSD. One example is avoiding friends, places, occasions, items, and circumstances that bring back old wounds. People may seek to forget or escape recalling the terrible occurrence. They may also be adamant about not discussing what occurred or their feelings about it.

Adding to these, they may have negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves or others. Behavioral changes may include irritability, angry outbursts, and sudden mood changes. They can be easily startled, portray reckless behavior, self-harm, etc.

In critical cases, memory loss, suicidal tendencies or self-destruction, and substance abuse are also noticed in those with PTSD.

To put it as a whole, most adults who suffer or encounter a tragic or disastrous incident will struggle to cope and suffer from emotions like:

  • Shock,
  • Denial,
  • Dread,
  • Uneasiness,
  • Rage,
  • Pessimism,
  • And even guilt.

These are fairly typical symptoms that should improve over time. Still, for people with PTSD, these thoughts do not improve and often worsen, persisting for months or perhaps years.

PTSD produces severe trauma for the person, which may have a psychologically major influence on their occupational engagement. PTSD at work impacts not just the people dealing with it but also disrupts their ties with their coworkers. And can also significantly impact the work environment. PTSD makes it difficult to carry out typical day-to-day work duties.

Simple activities might become stressful, and as I previously stated, the ability to build and sustain relations is generally impaired. And it is evident by now that symptoms of PTSD at work can likewise cause a lack of productivity and inefficiency.

Can PTSD be managed?

PTSD at work_Can PTSD be managed
Employees who encountered a major accident or tragedy at work may have a hard time going back to work. Since one of the core markers of PTSD is avoidance of situations linked with the trauma.

However, employees who are hesitant to resume work have more lasting PTSD effects. The presence of a good, well-rounded wellness program can help the traumatized employees return to work and help them cope. This eventually helps them recover from PTSD too.

Even though there is no cure for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), several treatments can help relieve the symptoms. There are various therapeutic approaches available and indications that medication may benefit those suffering from PTSD symptoms.

But when it comes to managing PTSD at work, our options are restricted but not nil.

How to help people with PTSD?

PTSD at work_how to help people with PTSD
Although it is next to impossible to help someone cure a mental illness directly. But several things can be done to minimize the effects that’ll, in turn, help the individual cope with the impact of the distress caused by the disorder and focus better in their work.

1. Lookout:

Managers must be on the lookout for indicators of PTSD because the symptoms typically appear 3 months after a traumatic incident. But, they can also take years to emerge. Employees facing PTSD would rather not talk about it for obvious reasons.

Thus, employers will have to observe symptoms, especially when the management is aware of any traumatic incident with any employees.

The signs aren’t too difficult to notice. The major ones being inefficiency, low productivity, poor performance, unstable relationships with colleagues, etc. Once you identify the signs, move ahead with caution. If you aren’t aware of the employee-facing any horrific incident, try finding out if they have.

The signs might look similar to those of depression, stress, or other mood disorders but do not rule out the possibility of PTSD without proper evidence. The reason for this is that the way we tackle these disorders is very different.

For example, people with depression feel better if they talk about it and won’t be triggered if you reach out to them to discuss the issue upfront. But doing the same with employees that have PTSD will trigger them badly. It would be best if you let them come to you to talk, and for this, they need to trust you, which brings me to my next point.

Do you know, PTSD affects over 8 million individuals in the United States?

2. Patience:

PTSD at work_Patience
PTSD can make it hard to control one’s feelings and impulses. It is very important to have patience while dealing with employees coping with PTSD. One of the primary reasons for this is adverse effects. Even if you’re trying to help them, a positive and calm attitude is the only acceptable approach.

Any kind of negative motivation or confronting the situation will only make things worse. Even if you’re conversing with them regarding their inefficiency, be understanding and talk about
their previous achievements. Tell them that you trust their skills and believe they can do way better rather than telling them why inefficiency at the workplace is not acceptable.

Being patient with them will build trust between you and the employee. This might even help them open up to you. In addition to that, they will also focus better on their job because talking about previous achievements ignites a fire of motivation in people.

This is also a great way to help them be more productive and efficient with their work. And the determination to do better will also keep them busy and away from the trauma for a while. Healing is a long journey that frequently entails hurdles. The most crucial thing is to be optimistic and supportive of your employee.

Do you know, the onset of PTSD symptoms might take years to surface? For your therapist to diagnose, you may have to experience PTSD symptoms for at least one month.

3. Build a sense of safety in the workplace:

This will need you to be more informed about the incident and the severity of the effect it left. Having an empathetic workforce is great for handling these situations. People who battle with PTSD are always under physical and emotional strain. They’re continuously tired, on edge, and physically stressed because they struggle to sleep, making them more likely to overreact to everyday pressures.

The employee who has developed PTSD will try to avoid communicating with their coworkers and even have angry outbursts. This is a reflex to push people away from them. It not only leaves them with no mates but also makes them worse. This is where having a workforce that genuinely cares plays a role.

To make them feel safe and stable in the workplace, the other employees will have to help out the management. They need to be more tolerant towards the particular person. Even if the person tries to distance themselves, their coworkers should keep including them in plans, jokes, gossip, and basically keep things normal.

Remember, building a sense of safety doesn’t mean they are to be given special treatment. We’re trying to bring the normalcy they had previously. For that, everyone and everything needs to be normal but with a sense of responsibility.

Do you know, not everybody has flashes of the same kind; actually, some people don’t have any at all?

4. Be a good listener:

PTSD at work_Be a good listener
If you’re able to build the trust, then chances are they’ll open up to you. And when they do, you need to be very careful with what you say. My suggestion would be to lend them an ear and listen to them talk about it, let them be vulnerable, and maybe cry it out.

Do not give them suggestions based on what you feel. Remember, what they have faced is solely their experience. You cannot put out any opinion, especially when you aren’t the one who has suffered.

A person suffering from PTSD may also find it compelling to discuss the unpleasant experience repeatedly. Resist the desire to urge them to quit discussing the tragedy and move on because this is part of healing. Instead, offer to speak with them as often as they wish.

Being a good listener will help them get out of the suffocation and help them cope better with the situation. It’ll also help them focus on their jobs better.

Do you know, you don’t have to be a victim of trauma to acquire PTSD. Most individuals who suffer from PTSD have experienced a traumatic event, such as a major accident or assault. However, when anyone close to you was involved in a terrible incident or if someone you loved was hurt or died, you might get PTSD.

5. Identify and manage potential triggers:

Although you cannot possibly be aware of all the triggers, you can definitely observe and identify them. It can be as small as a particular song and as big as a person or a place.

The attacks caused by specific triggers will be obvious, and all you have to do henceforth is prevent those triggers. Also, it will be great if you discuss and come up with a plan to manage the attacks. And ultimately, try calming them down.

Do you know, PTSD symptoms vary between men and women?

6. Professional Support:

PTSD at work_Professional-support
Ultimately, having professional support in the form of Corporate Counsellors will be extremely beneficial. They can not only help you build assistance programs for PTSD and other disorders, but they can also support you in dealing with that affected individual.

Additionally, it should be clear that the employee needs to seek professional help. Because many individuals who’ve been traumatized require PTSD treatment from an expert.

If you notice them not seeking medical treatments for PTSD, wait till the appropriate moment to express your concerns. Use caution while expressing yourself. Avoid using language that implies they are “insane.”

Instead, present it in an optimistic, constructive light. Try to make them understand that treatment is a chance to gain new skills applied to a range of PTSD-related difficulties.

Do you know, repeating the event (exposure therapy) under professional care can alleviate PTSD symptoms?

Frequently Asked Questions about PTSD

Even if this article summarises the essential facts to assist your colleagues suffering from PTSD, you may still have some doubts. But don’t you worry, this segment will answer the top 5 questions you might have regarding PTSD. They will not only help you understand what PTSD is but will also help you in managing PTSD at work.

Q. Does PTSD cause anger?

If someone has PTSD, this increased level of alertness and tension might become the norm. As a result, anger’s emotional and bodily manifestations become stronger. They may be jittery, agitated, or irritated regularly. They’re susceptible to being provoked.

Q. What should you not do with PTSD?

Don’t prevent them from expressing their emotions or anxieties. Don’t give them advice or tell them what they “ought” to do until they ask for it. Don’t put all of their issues down to PTSD. Also, please refrain from issuing ultimatums, warnings, or accusations.

Q. What is a PTSD episode like?

An episode of PTSD is marked by emotions of dread and panic and flashes and abrupt, vivid recollections of a terrible incident of their past.

Q. How long do PTSD attacks last?

An attack generally lasts 5 to 20 minutes, although it can last up to several hours. About ten minutes after the episode begins, one experiences the most anxiety. One may experience physical symptoms such as chest discomfort as well.

Q. Does PTSD get worse with age?

People’s PTSD symptoms may emerge or worsen as they become older, prompting them to behave differently. These fluctuations may be disturbing, but they are typical, and therapy may improve the situation.

Wrapping it up

When it comes to managing an employee with PTSD at work, good communication is essential. Make suitable adjustments to help them minimize their stress and anxiety at work. Try dealing with any issues as soon as possible.

Also, get your workforce conscious of treating people with PTSD compassionately. And as Dawn Serra said,

“There is no timestamp on trauma. There isn’t a formula that you can insert yourself into to get from horror to healing. Be patient. Take up space. Let your journey be the balm.”

A little empathy and perseverance can work like magic. Finally, I would just say, have their backs and support them on their path to recovery.

Bhaswati Roy

This article is written by Bhaswati Roy who is a Content Marketer at Vantage Circle. In her spare time, she can be found reading crime thrillers or scrolling through food apps, unable to pick what to eat next. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com.

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