PTSD stands for post traumatic stress disorder. According to the National Center for PTSD, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that one witnesses or is involved with. During this type of event, the individual may think that his life or others’ lives are in danger. He may feel afraid or feel that he has no control over what is happening.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, symptoms are grouped into three main categories.
2. Avoidance symptoms
3. Hyperarousal symptoms
While many mililtary vets have PTSD, it can occur in non-military employees as well. They may have been in an accident, witnessed a fatality or serious injury at work, or been a victim of a natural disaster or war. Due to the nature of the profession, PTSD tends to occur more in the medical field, fire fighters, police officers, and the construction industry.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees are not required to disclose a diagnosis of PTSD, however they are required to disclose their condition, if or when they need accomodation to perform the essential duties of the job. PTSD can negatively impact memory, concentration, time management and organizational skills and more.
The Job Accomodation Network is a great resource that provides suggestions for employers to consider when accomodating employees.
While some employees have been diagnosed and are being treated for PTSD, others may not be aware they have it. If you are concerned about an employee who may be displaying or experiencing some of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to refer them to the EAP. If there are no performance issues, you can suggest they contact the EAP and emphasize that all contact with the EAP is confidential. If however, there are performance issues, you should refer the employee to the EAP for the performance problem and you can certainly share your concerns about the possiblity of PTSD or emotional issues with the EAP counselor who will conduct a thorough assessment.
If a traumatic event such as a sudden death, injury or serious accident occurs at work, you should contact the EAP about the possiblility of conducting a critical incident debriefing. Allowing employees the opportunity to discuss what they saw and their reactions to the event, can help them process their feelings and prevent PTSD. The EAP also offers education about the symptoms of trauma and helps normalize their reactions to an abnormal event.
This week we were asked to conduct critical incident debriefings for two different companies, after both had an armed robbery in the same week. The event reminded me how important a message it is to employees that their employer cares enough to give them time and resources (the EAP counselor) to process their feelings about these traumatic events.
A critical incident can be defined as a situation beyond a person’s usual realm of experience that overwhlems his or her vulnerability and lack of control. This event can cause changes in a person’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning. In general, most people feel that work is predictable and safe but when that sense of security is shattered by a violent act, serious accident or even a fatality, it can have a significant emotional impact on the lives of employees.
A critical incident debriefing allows individuals impacted by a critical incident to process their thoughts and feelings with others who have experienced the same thing. We remind individuals that their reactions are a NORMAL reaction to an ABNORMAL event. The critical incident debriefing also provides education about the signs of cognitive, behavioral and emotional symptoms commonly experienced after a traumatic event. The EAP counselor will also discuss self-care techniques and when to determine if professional help is necessary.
Some people have unresolved personal losses or traumas that can surface at the time of a critical incident which can make their reactions to the new event even more intense. The EAP counselor can also provide individual counseling if needed. Allowing employees the opportunity to share their feelings and reactions in a confidential environment which is supported by the employer, can prevent individuals from experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and allows employees to feel validated, supported and loyal towards their employer.
Critical incident debriefing is an important part of the employee assistance program. The EAP counselor can help the employer determine if it is appropriate to conduct a debriefing or if other forms of intervention may be more beneficial.