PTSD, key workers, and what you can do to help

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Health Assured team

02 July 2020

At time of writing, we’re careening head-first into summer—and regarding the COVID-19 situation, we’re not out of the woods, yet. While some places are re-opening, other places are beginning to close again—the risk of a second wave is triggering localised, strict lockdowns. And still the government line is to stay at home, and work remotely if possible. 

For some, this isn’t possible, and their jobs are deemed necessary to the smooth functioning of the country. 

Categories of key workers include: 

  • Education and childcare 
  • Health and social care 
  • Key public services 
  • Local and national government 
  • Food and other necessary goods 
  • Public safety and national security 
  • Transport 
  • Utilities, communication and financial services 

Many of these key workers are at the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, and many of them see things which most of us are protected from. Being a health worker during a global pandemic is a unique and stressful undertaking—and one which can easily result in PTSD. 

What is PTSD? 

PTSD—or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—is a condition resulting from ‘actual or threatened exposure to death or serious injury to themselves or others.’ It’s different to burnout—burnout is a condition which comes on gradually, as mental and physical exhaustion accumulate over time. 

PTSD is a sudden result of a sudden incident. It manifests as feelings of fear, horror, helplessness and manifests in a degree of emotional numbing, feelings as if things are not quite real (dissociation) or that things are happening outside yourself (depersonalisation). Typically, there is a re-experiencing of distressing images, hyperarousal, withdrawal and irritability. 

This is common in people facing things like rising death tolls, excessive workloads, and potential ethical conflicts—things which frontline workers during the pandemic are likely to experience. 

It can be difficult to know how to best help people with PTSD, but there are a few ways to make life easier: 

Listen: give people time to talk at their own pace, allow them to express their emotions, and don’t make any assumptions about how they feel. It’s important to let people have validity in their experiences—don't question them, or offer platitudes like ‘it could be worse’. 

Be accepting: have patience when someone is suffering. It’s understandable that you might want someone to return to normal as quickly as possible, but that isn’t always so simple. Don’t apply pressure, but have patience. 

Be respectful: someone with PTSD may feel jumpy, or nervous—it's important to learn their triggers and avoid startling or surprising them, as well as respecting personal space and boundaries. 

Critical incident support & stress management 

If your employees have experienced something at work which could cause traumatic stress, it’s vital that you do everything you can to provide support.  

Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is an effective debriefing procedure to help normalise the often overwhelming psychological, physiological and emotional responses to minor, moderate and severe critical incidents. 

If you experience a critical incident at work, Health Assured can have trained counsellors on-site within 24 to 48 hours for defusing and stress management. This management can be the difference between a traumatised workforce, and one capable of processing the incident and returning to work quickly and healthily. 

Contact us today to learn more about managing PTSD, and mitigating critical stress today. 

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