How to help an employee with panic disorder

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Health Assured team

01 August 2019

It’s not uncommon for individuals to experience anxiety or fear.

It’s even expected as a response to stressful situations. However, when these feelings become constant and for no specific reason, it could be identified as panic disorder.

It can be a challenge to manage employees with this condition. Especially when they’re displaying panic disorder behaviours such as:

  • Avoidance.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Over attachment.
  • Substance misuse.

This piece explores how to help employees dealing with panic disorder. As well as highlighting some of the causes and symptoms, we’ll also identify how panic disorder affects daily life.


What is panic disorder?

First off, is panic disorder a mental illness? Yes, it’s the most common form of mental ill-health.

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety disorder where sufferers experience sudden attacks of panic (or fear). It creates an exaggerated feeling of unease as the body’s response to fear or stress. Attacks range from mild to severe.

This condition affects social and professional lives. Apart from the attacks, sufferers may avoid places where they’ve experienced them.

Avoidance behaviour is a disabling symptom of panic anxiety disorder. In severe cases, it can get to a point where sufferers are housebound for fear of having another attack.


Is panic disorder a disability?

A mental health condition is considered a disability if its long-term (lasting up to 12 months) and affects the sufferer’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

While panic disorder isn’t directly listed as a disability, the symptoms it presents may develop into other mental health issues that can lead to a disability, including stress, anxiety and depression.


What are the symptoms of panic disorder?

It can manifest itself in various ways. The most common and severe amongst them is anxiety and panic attacks. Managing these can create a cycle of living ‘in fear of fear’ which can then go on to exacerbate the condition.

Other panic disorder symptoms include:

  • Numbness.
  • Choking.
  • Nausea.
  • Hot flashes.
  • Chest pains.
  • Feeling of dread.
  • Tingling sensation in fingers.

In a work setting, it’s important for co-workers and managers to be able to identify and support employees coping with panic disorder. Employers may notice:

  • Increased absences.
  • Over emotional behaviours.
  • Dwelling on negative experiences or feedback.
  • Feeling restless and unable to concentrate.


Causes of panic and anxiety disorder

Just like other mental health conditions, researchers and other experts in the field are unsure of the exact cause. While we’re unable to find out what causes panic disorder and panic attacks, numerous factors may increase the risk of developing it.

Panic disorder risk factors include:

  • A family history of having it.
  • History of childhood physical or sexual abuse.
  • Traumatic events (assault, accidents, sexual abuse etc.).
  • Major life stresses and changes (bereavement, serious illnesses, new baby etc.).

It’s also said to be linked to other pre-existing medical conditions such as:

  • Mitral valve prolapse (a minor cardiac problem).
  • Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland).
  • Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
  • Medication withdrawal.


Supporting an employee with panic disorder

The first step in this process is mental health first aid. It aims to train relevant employees in the skills needed to support staff members experiencing panic attacks or anxiety at work.

Having regular formal and informal conversations can help develop rapport. This is important for maintaining communications with them.

You can also consider an employee assistance programme that offers tools for promoting mental health and wellbeing at work. With 24/7 accessibility, employees can gain access to confidential counselling services where qualified counsellors can provide support.



Expert advice

If you’d like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on 0844 892 2493

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