By: Debra Kabalkin on May 30th, 2018

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How Employers Can Best Manage & Support PTSD

Diversity & Inclusion

National PTSD Awareness Day is coming up around the corner on June 27th and I thought this would be a good time to shed light on the topic. More and more we hear about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the workplace.

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 3.5% of the U.S. adult population experiences PTSD. To put into perspective, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

In my experience consulting in the government contracting space with heavy veteran populations, PTSD has typically resulted from military service trauma. The US Dept. of Veteran Affairs states that approximately 11-20% of service members who return home from deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq have symptoms of PTSD, and about 15% of Vietnam veterans and 12% of Gulf War veterans also suffer from PTSD. More specifically, military sexual trauma can cause PTSD as well. It's been reported that out of veterans who use VA health care, 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.

While we may hear about veterans experiencing PTSD more commonly, anyone can develop a post-traumatic stress disorder "after exposure to a potentially traumatic event that is beyond a typical stressor. Events that may lead to PTSD include, but are not limited to, violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat, and other forms of violence," according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

"People who experience PTSD may have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of the event(s), experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or may be easily startled. In severe forms, PTSD can significantly impair a person's ability to function at work, at home, and socially."

PTSD in the Workplace

PTSD affects many areas of the individual's life and can manifest itself in various ways in the workplace, therefore employers need to be educated on how to look for PTSD and to help support the employee suffering.

Some symptoms of those who have PTSD are:

  • Memory problems
  • Lack of concentration
  • Difficulty retaining information
  • Feelings of fear or anxiety (Panic attacks)
  • Physical problems
  • Inability to interact with coworkers
  • Unreasonable reactions to situations that trigger memories
  • Absenteeism

You might be wondering how an employer should handle this, especially since each employee has different means of coping and may require different approaches.

Ensuring that a Reasonable Accommodation Policy is in place is the first thing needed.  Working together with the individual employee to identify a reasonable accommodation is essential to creating a successful resolution.

Here are some tips to help ensure the accommodation process is effective:

  • Work with the employee as it pertains to job performance.
  • Identify what specific tasks may be challenging.
  • Identify how you can assist.
  • Consider the work environment when making any accommodation.

Some of the ways an employer can accommodate an employee who has PTSD are:

  • Flexible scheduling (including telework).
  • More frequent breaks throughout the day.
  • Increased privacy in the employee’s workspace.
  • Providing both written and verbal instructions.

Regardless of what accommodation is determined, having a thorough job description in place will help to ensure the essential duties are met, and acceptable levels of performance are sustained.

Additional items we, at Helios, often suggest to our clients regarding PTSD are:

  • Respectful workplace training that educates your entire workforce on anti-harassment and discrimination.
  • Training on HIPAA requirements to ensure managers understand the compliance regulations and they are aware of the importance of preserving employee’s privacy.
  • Offer resources such as an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for employees to seek help and ensure they understand what other options are available internally.

PTSD is a sensitive topic for everyone, and you cannot afford to ignore it.  Communication is critical in not only helping support the employee in his or her role but also educating others on how to interact with someone that may be experiencing PTSD.