Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Health Assured team

19 December 2019

Post-traumatic stress disorder can really affect a person's physical and mental health.

It’s a serious illness that anyone can go through. At its worst, it can bring life to a complete standstill.

You have a duty of care to all your employees. If you fail to support those with PTSD, it could lead to huge costs. Like tribunal claims, fines, and reputational damage.

In this guide, we'll look at what PTSD is, if it's a disability, and how to help those suffering from it.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an illness that's linked to a traumatic event.

People develop PTSD when they go through something frightening or stressful.

The body shuts down as it tries to defend itself from danger. But this all happens in the person's mind. Once they remember the traumatic experiences, they become paralyzed from the shock.

It can take months, even years, for a person to recover from PTSD. Even with the support of mental health professionals.

People can suffer from PTSD symptoms in their everyday life. Traumatic memories or places can set them off. You can’t measure how long it’ll take them to recover from the illness.

an employee working on a laptop

What causes post-traumatic stress disorder?

When someone goes through a traumatic event, they can sometimes struggle to control their mind.

Distressing events like these activate parts of the brain that deal with 'immediate action’. This can mean that the person feels like they're going through traumatic experiences again.

As mentioned, there are many factors that lead to developing PTSD. It all depends on how people deal with trauma’.

Here are common traumatic events that can cause PTSD:

  • Near-death or death of a close person.
  • Physical abuse and sexual assault.
  • Stressful jobs.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Traumatic childbirth.
  • A serious physical or mental health problem.

People can develop PTSD straight after a traumatic incident. Or it can occur weeks after, (sometimes even more than a month).

The person develops an abnormal level of stress hormones, like adrenaline. The body finds a way to react to the memory. It is commonly known as a 'fight-or-flight' reaction. Meaning, the body will do anything to end the pain.

Supporting employees with PTSD

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health in the workplace and in life. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support employees mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.

Find out more about EAPs

 

 

Different types of PTSD symptoms

People experience different types of PTSD symptoms. There are four main categories to look at:

Re-experiencing symptoms

This is when the person can't help but think about traumatic events. Re-experiencing symptoms can include:

  • Having repeated or unwanted memories.
  • Suffering from flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts.

Avoidance symptoms

This is when a person will try their best to avoid past or ongoing trauma. They may avoid:

  • Memories related to the traumatic experience.
  • People related to the traumatic experience.
  • Places related to the traumatic experience.

Arousal symptoms

This is when a person's emotional and physical reactions change because of the event. For example:

  • Being easily startled or scared.
  • Being self-destructive (like heavy drinking, drugs, or speeding).
  • Trouble with focusing and sleeping.
  • Showing anger or aggressive behaviour.

Very young children can also suffer from PTSD. Some of their symptoms include nightmares or re-enacting the traumatic event through play.

People can often develop PTSD symptoms that stop them from working. It can literally paralyse them, as they struggle to separate fantasy from reality.

PTSD can also affect other employees, like managers or peers. They may find it hard to understand how to help their colleague who's suffering.

Mood symptoms

This is when a person goes through symptoms that directly affect their mind. For example, they have:

  • Trouble remembering key points of the traumatic event.
  • Negative thoughts about themselves or the world.
  • Feelings related to shame or guilt.
  • A loss of interest in everyday activities.

People can experience PTSD because of their personal and work life. For example, war veterans or victims of domestic violence.

Along with the symptoms above, people can also suffer from other mental health problems. Like panic disorder, depression, and substance abuse.

an employee feeling isolated from their colleagues

Is PTSD linked to disability?

In the UK, PTSD can legally class as a disability. But there are certain rules it needs to meet first.

The person's condition may class as a mental illness. A medical professional, like a mental health specialist, will pass this diagnosis.

Most of the legal needs come under the Equality Act (2010). The act states, for a condition to class as a disability, it must have:

  • 'A substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

This means a person’s mental illness makes it hard to do normal work tasks. Like using a computer or talking to people. The illness must also last for at least 12 months to class as a long-term disability.

Disability rights under employment law

Under the same act, employers have a legal duty to protect their staff during work. This is especially important for anyone with a health condition.

To ensure that they’re working safely you may need to provide 'reasonable adjustments'. These changes can help them perform better and keep up with their peers.

If you ignore disability rights, it could lead to huge consequences. It is illegal to sack an employee because of their disability or PTSD symptoms.

Doing so could result in claims of disability discrimination, which is illegal in the UK. You may be asked to attend an employment tribunal. If the claim is upheld, you could end up paying fines and compensation.

How is PTSD treated?

Medical professionals that treated PTSD say recovery depends on the individual. It's all about how they react to traumatic events and deal with their symptoms.

As an employer, you aren't expected to know how to cure their condition. But you can guide people towards the right help.

The first step is getting help from mental health specialists. Here are some treatment options they may offer:

Psychotherapy

It's very common for medical professionals to use psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is also known as 'talk therapy' . The therapists will go over the person's specific symptoms and offer ways to help them deal with their illness.

Psychotherapy is either held alone or through group sessions. After a few weeks of therapy, the person may have built a coping method for their trauma.

Exposure therapy

Common methods that health professionals use to treat PTSD are exposure therapies.

This is when the person learns to control their fear. This is done by having them face their trauma at a slow and safe pace.

Exposure includes things like writing, imagining, or re-visiting places. The therapist will discover the root of the trauma and how to control triggers.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a more science-based test.

A person's eye movements are tracked to help map out their subconscious mind. EMDR is usually done by a mental health specialist. But it's often used alongside talk therapy.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is when a person learns to make sense of their trauma.

Therapists will walk the person through their traumatic event. And try to discover where their triggers came from.

This method is useful when helping people get over guilt or shame (especially when they're not at fault).

Medicine

A mental health professional may decide to offer medicinal help.

Treating PTSD through medicine depends on the person and their traumatic event. For example, they might offer antidepressants to help with low moods. Or they could offer medicine to help them sleep.

The mental health professional will treat both mental and physical symptoms - reducing further trauma.

three employees working collaboratively

How to support employees with post-traumatic stress disorder

Employees can suffer from any level of PTSD.

Regardless of whether it is a personal or workplace issue, you have a legal to support them at work.

Remember, these can be scary or dangerous memories. So, it might be hard for employees to talk openly about them. With the right care and support, you'll be able to protect them in the best way during work.

Here's how to support employees with PTSD in the workplace:

Find their triggers

It’s important to find a person's triggers for their condition.

For example, an employee says their PTSD makes it hard for them to work in noisy places. Their employer may offer headphones or a quiet workspace.

A great way to identify triggers is through risk assessments. These assessments help spot risk factors linked to their condition.

Keep open communication

Good communication is the key to managing PTSD.

People will have their own unique triggers. So, it's important to see what affects their illness and how you can help.

When people return to work after a traumatic event, you need to give the right support. Remember, communication is one of the best remedies for a mental health problem.

Make reasonable adjustments

As mentioned, PTSD can legally counts as a disability. So, employers have a legal duty to support employees during work.

The best way to do this is by making reasonable adjustments. Ask the employee what they struggle with during work. From there, you'll be able to make positive changes to their workspace.

In the end, these changes can help improve their performance, as well as their health. You can offer employees:

Sometimes, employees may simply need time to rest or recover from trauma. After talking about it, you can offer paid sick pay to help them during this time.

End mental health stigma

It’s so important to grow a workplace that ends mental health stigma .

A lot of negative viewpoints surrounding mental health problems. People can assume that those with PTSD are stuck in the past and need to learn to move on.

But having PTSD isn't a choice and recovery isn’t straightforward. It's important not to isolate them or let them suffer alone.

Remember, employees can also develop PTSD from bullying at work. So, it’s vital to make sure you don't tolerate this kind of behaviour.

You can even provide managers with training on managing PTSD. This will promote awareness and help colleagues support each other.

What is complex PTSD?

When you repeatedly experience traumatic situations, it's known as complex PTSD (C-PTSD).

The symptoms for complex PTSD are similar to general PTSD. And people can suffer from it for months, even years.

It's often seen in people who have suffered from severe neglect or physical abuse. Complex PTSD involves more factors, so the treatment options are extensive.

Anyone can suffer from complex PTSD, children and adults alike. When they go through a traumatic event, it leaves them with upsetting and confusing thoughts. If they're still suffering after a few weeks, they should seek medical help.

Get expert advice on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with Health Assured

If you have an employee with PTSD, you are legally bound to support them. This means showing positive emotions and reasonable care.

If you neglect them, it could lead to huge costs. Like facing discrimination claims, losing employees, and business damages.

Health Assured provides expert advice on PTSD and trauma management with our Employee Assistance Programme. Our teams offer guidance on employee wellbeing whilst simultaneously meeting your business needs.

We also provide a 24/7 helpline, that’s open 365 days a year – helping you care for your staff all year round. Arrange a call back from an expert today on 0844 891 0352 

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