Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness typically associated with combat and violence, but any frightening or disturbing experience that overwhelms a person, no matter who and where they are, can trigger PTSD.
Much news is focused on workers who suffer some form of physical injury in the workplace, but seldom do we hear about the mental and emotional injuries that on-the-job trauma causes. For instance, workers who witness an amputation on the job, a crushing or falling incident, an explosion, or some other horrific workplace accident that results in a coworker’s severe injury or death.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), mental health experts have determined that eight percent of Canadians will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some individuals at the highest risk for developing PTSD on the job are military personnel, paramedics, firefighters, police, dispatch receivers, corrections officers, doctors, nurses, and other emergency workers. Additionally, employees whose workplaces are prone to robberies or where the risk of a serious incident is high are also at risk.
Symptoms of PTSD often begin within one to three months of the triggering event, but it is also possible for the signs to appear many years later, CCOHS says.
PTSD symptoms include nightmares, uncontrollable memories, persistent fear, and severe anxiety. Many people report that they re-experience the traumatic event through vivid nightmares or flashbacks.
PTSD sufferers often avoid the things that remind them of the event; for example, someone who was injured in a car crash might avoid driving. Thus, for workers, returning to the workplace where a traumatic incident occurred can be a debilitating experience. It’s not uncommon for workers who witness the death or serious injury of a fellow worker, or who have been injured on the job themselves, to quit their job.
According to CCOHS, some examples of the difficulties workers suffering from PTSD experience include:
- Feeling on edge, irritated, or angry.
- Feeling numb, detached, disconnected, or less connection with family or friends.
- Feeling that something terrible might happen again, or that they must constantly be “on guard” for danger.
- Trying to avoid places, objects, activities, or people that remind them of the event.
- Dissatisfaction with work and life.
- Having trouble concentrating and staying focused.
- Problems sleeping well.
- Feeling down or unmotivated for weeks to months.
- Avoiding public places or crowds of people.
- Seeking out other ways to cope such turning to alcohol or drugs.
CCOHS says that the main thing employers can do to help workers who may be suffering from PTSD is to take the illness seriously.
Other measures to help workers cope with and overcome PTSD include:
- Addressing their observations, trying to have an open discussion, and offering support if you recognize signs or symptoms.
- Recognizing that withdrawal and anger are part of the PTSD disorder.
- Asking how to support them, even if they are not ready to talk about it.
- Helping them find support.
- Encouraging them to talk to someone they trust.
- Letting them know it is healthy to reach out and accept support.
- Taking care of yourself as well and making your own health and safety a priority.