This article was originally published on MFed and written by Tristen Wendland, MS, LPC.
When you hear the acronym PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) most think of combat war veterans. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a fairly new term. In WWI and WWII it was referred to as shell shock or combat fatigue. The term was developed in the 1970s after the Vietnam war when servicemembers returned with similar symptoms. It wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized it as a disorder.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, it is estimated that around 6-7% of the US population will deal with some PTSD in their lifetime. According to Department of Veterans Affairs, Woman are at higher risk at 8% compared to Men at 4%. PTSD can be related to natural disaster, a serious accident, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, combat, sexual assault, or other types of violent assault.
While working for Department of Veterans affairs I had the opportunity to work with many combat veterans over my career. One comes to mind. He was a young Army veteran who worked in EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). During his time in the US Army, he was deployed 3 times. During his last deployment he was injured during a mission when a bomb he was defusing exploded leaving him permanently disfigured and without the use his dominate arm. After 8 years of skin grafts, multiple surgeries, and ongoing therapy he was ready to discuss returning to school and work. He applied for Vocational Readiness and Employment through Department of Veterans Affairs CH31 program, and I was assigned his case. We started off slowly with him only taking 1 class at a time. Working up to part time school in person was a challenge. The physical scars on his face and mangled arm were hard to miss. Over the 5 years that I worked with him I saw him succeed and fail and celebrated his achievements and milestones and encouraged him when he stumbled. Often having to take breaks when he stubbled back. What I learned from him is that the will and want to work and succeed is 90% of the battle for people with emotional scars. His goal was never to be who he was previously but to be who he is today. A better version of himself who can feel satisfaction from employment even at a part time level. Success was self-determined, and not dictated by a 40-hour work week or paycheck.
So, when it comes to employment what is the impact on your workforce? According to the American Psychologic Society, the symptoms of PTSD sometimes cause significant distress for many individuals. It impacts their social and occupational participation to a degree that is significant. It can impact their ability to engage in selfcare and home care activities, education, and work roles as well as social and leisure activities.
What can you as an employer do to minimize or accommodate an employee suffering with PTSD? According to US Department of Labor Workers Compensation, Employees may benefit from returning to work on a part‑time basis. Modified work schedules or shared employment can be beneficial. In terms of workplace accommodations, each person will have specific needs, and you really have to look at accommodations based on that individual. Here are some options:
- Providing instructions or job-related responsibilities in writing as well as verbal instructions.
- Offering additional training or refreshers to assist that individual with some of the memory difficulties.
- Allowing workers to maintain more flexible schedules and being able to take time off for any treatment or appointments that they have to attend.
- Permitting extra time to complete non-urgent tasks.
- Letting employees wear noise canceling headphones to reduce distractions while they’re working.
- Increasing the amount of light in the work environment to help maintain alertness and help them improve concentration.
- Removing any emotional triggers that remind the employee of the trauma that are upsetting (when possible).
- Making sure parking areas are well lit or that security personnel is available to accompany them when walking to a car or unsafe locations in the dark.
According to the Recovery Village, with treatment the prognosis is positive that PTSD symptoms can be managed. While approximately one-third of people do not achieve full symptom elimination with treatment, most individuals experience a significant reduction in the intensity of their symptoms. It is important to understand when an employee is struggling, and performance is low there maybe underlying issues that can be accommodated or addressed by managers.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)“ https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd .” November 2017. Accessed May 9, 2023.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “How Common Is PTSD in Adults?” https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp February 3, 2023. Accessed May 9, 2023.
U.S. Department of Labor Workers Compensation. “How PTSD is Affecting Return to Work” https://www.genexservices.com/insights/workers-comp/blog/how-ptsd-affecting-return-work August 2019. Accessed May 9, 2023
The Recovery Village. “PTSD Statistics and Facts” https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/ptsd/ptsd-statistics/#:~:text=70%25%20of%20adults%20experience%20at,some%20point%20in%20their%20life May 2023. Accessed May 9, 2023.