PTSD in the workplace is a more common occurrence than many people think. As reported in a 2020 review (Lee et al.), although 1.5% of people report having faced a traumatic effect at work, many instances are simply not reported. The risk of experiencing PTSD depends on one’s working conditions, the severity of any injury sustained, one’s history of mental illness, and interpersonal relationships—to name a few factors. Employees with PTSD tend to experience worsening physical and mental health over time, as well as an impairment in their social and working lives. Getting help for PTSD is vital if its long-term effects are to be reduced or nipped in the bud. If you are an employer, it is vital to be on the lookout for signs of PTSD and to point employees in the right direction towards recovery.
How Does Work PTSD Differ from Non-Work-Related PTSD?
PTSD as a whole results in a series of circumstances and symptoms that include facing a life-threatening event (Candura et al., 2020), having internal reminders of this event (including flashbacks), avoiding reminders of the event, entering into an altered state of anxiety, and experiencing changes in one’s mood or way of thinking. The term “work PTSD,” however, has specific legal ramifications. Those seeking to obtain compensation for PTSD sustained at work need to establish that the life-threatening event was sustained at work or while carrying out their work functions.
Personal Injury Claims for PTSD
Beyond a work compensation suit, which is generally levied at an insurance company, the worker may also bring a personal injury suit against their employer. To do so, they would need to prove that their condition was mainly caused by work. They would also need to obtain a PTSD diagnosis from a mental health professional. A successful personal injury suit could be very costly for a company, because the plaintiff could obtain damages for all losses suffered—including loss of earnings, medical bills and future medical expenses, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and more.
What Symptoms of PTSD Should Employers Look Out For?
Work PTSD can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, some of which may mimic other conditions and disorders. These include depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disorders, self-isolation, an inability to focus, intrusive thoughts, and blaming oneself or others. An employee may also become more irritable, or may be in a permanent state of heightened emotional arousal. Someone with PTSD may seek to escape from the distress by abusing alcohol and substances. Sometimes, the first signs an employer may have that something is wrong, is an employee’s frequent absence and frequent health complaints.
The Role of HR Departments
Human Resources departments should possess a thorough knowledge of PTSD. They should ideally receive training on the effects that stress, burnout, trauma, and injury can have on employees’ wellbeing. They should encourage managers to adopt an accepting, supporting work culture; one in which staff experiencing mental distress can find the help and support they need. Staff should be invited to report any issues that are causing them stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma. They should additionally receive training in healthy coping and social interaction skills such as conflict resolution, emotional regulation, anger management, and effective communication.
Creating a Happy Workplace
Employers should also aim to create a happy workplace; one that supports a healthy work-life balance for employees. Important measures that can be taken to ensure include providing flexibility, avoiding micromanaging, encouraging employee feedback, and more. HR professionals should know where to refer employees who are going through challenging experiences, such as divorce or the loss of a loved one. Once an employee has been diagnosed with PTSD, accommodations should be made so as to give the person the room and flexibility they need to make an optimal recovery.
Counselling is vital after undergoing a traumatic event (Wake Forest University, n.d.). Specific therapies have been found to be successful when treating PTSD. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and virtual reality treatment. Another approach that has been employed successfully for decades is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This involves recalling traumatic memories while viewing specific movements made by the therapist (usually with their hands). Some studies have shown that up to 90% of all trauma victims that seek EMDR treatment can eliminate their PTSD symptoms after only three sessions (lasting 90 minutes each). Each individual may react differently to each of these treatments, which is why more than one may be recommended.
Work-related PTSD is thought to be far more prevalent than official statistics indicate. To establish this type of PTSD, employees have to show that their condition was caused at work or while they were carrying out their professional functions. Because PTSD causes absence, mood swings, and behavioral changes, it has the potential to significantly affect organizational goals. Companies should protect workers against this condition by providing a supporting environment and pointing employees in the right direction should they need mental assistance.