PTSD in the Workplace

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), typically results from witnessing or experiencing an extremely distressing or catastrophic event, or series of events. Most people associate PTSD with military or emergency response incidents, but PTSD can occur in any workplace.

PTSD is a mental illness that occurs when a someone experiences something extremely frightening, stressful, or overwhelming. Typically, the event is unexpected, and the person feels powerless to influence the outcome. Often the incident resulting in PTSD involves the threat of death or serious injury. Some examples of such incidents include combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or an assault.

PTSD is a mental illness and can be hard to identify and diagnose. Although some people’s onset of PTSD may be quick, others may not notice issues for years. Common signs of PTSD include:

• Flashbacks

• Severe anxiety

• Nightmares and a persistent feeling of fear

• Anxiety

• Anger

• Loss of feelings

• Paranoia

• Depression

• Inability to concentrate

In the workplace, any serious safety incident has the potential to cause PTSD. The highest risk occupations for developing PTSD are military personnel, first responders, dispatch receivers, corrections officers, doctors, and nurses, but ultimately PTSD can result from any serious safety or health incident. Something like a manufacturing accident can cause PTSD, but so can something like workplace bullying.

PTSD is a serious mental illness and workplace education can go a long way to recognize the signs of PTSD and support those with PTSD. Management and employees should receive PTSD training focused on destigmatizing the illness, general awareness, resiliency, signs and symptoms, available support, and how to support others. If you think that a co-worker is affected by PTSD, you should encourage them to seek out support, offer your own support, and be understanding of any reasonable accommodation that they may need to continue in their job. Depending on the person’s PTSD symptoms, there are workplace accommodations that are effective and relatively easy to implement, including:

• Flexible scheduling

• Noise canceling devices

• Written instructions and requests

• Modifying break schedules

• Allowing assistance animals

• Modifying workplace lighting

• Repositioning their workspace

• Disability awareness training for staff

• Time management training

• Allowing music or headsets

• Reducing non-essential job functions

• Regularly scheduled supervision/feedback

• Consistent shift scheduling

Employers can also consider providing access to support services, like an employee assistance program, as well as the time off needed to utilize such support.

It’s important to understand that PTSD is not limited to high-risk occupations – any workplace can cause PTSD. Workplaces where workers are at higher risk of experiencing or witnessing traumatic events should include PTSD education as a part of their standard workplace training. It is important to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential risks and hazards and develop policies, procedures, and programs to specifically address PTSD.