PTSD: Not Just For Soldiers

By Terry Streather | Mental Health

Jun 25

Hear Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I’m sure most imagine the men and women of our emergency services and armed forces. Those brave souls who arrive at the scene of a motorway pile-up or who spent time in Helmand Province avoiding sniper fire and IEDs. That sort of thing. Obviously, you’d be right, given those circumstances. After all it was in the context of war that we first started talking about “Shell Shock” and “War Neurosis” and “Combat Stress”.  

But PTSD, as it is now known, is not the sole preserve of individuals committed to rescuing people from cars and blazing buildings or charged with defending their country. Or someone else’s country for that matter.

In fact, anyone can be diagnosed with PTSD. It’s far more common than you might imagine and is often a consequence of some pretty regular (though invariably unpleasant, to say the least) situations. It is estimated that half of us will experience a trauma in our lifetime, and up to 20% may go on to develop PTSD as a result.

More facts

It is certainly not my intention to minimise or in any way dilute the seriousness or prevalence of PTSD within those settings, especially given my personal background in the emergency services. Rather, I hope to shine a light on the fact that so many more are affected. For example:

PTSD manifests itself in 1 in 3 teenagers who survive a horrific car crash. In 70% of rape victims. Among 40% of people who experience the sudden death of a loved one. And in an estimated 10,000 women every year following a traumatic childbirth. You get the picture.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event. And as you can see above, there are plenty of traumatic events around. It simply alters the way a person sees the world, making it seem like a perpetually dangerous and frightening place. In turn, that damages a sufferer’s ability to trust other – and themselves.

So far, this blog has been the harbinger of doom. Sorry about that. Before I go any further, let’s first throw a beam of positive light onto the subject with these uplifting thoughts:

  • It is entirely possible to recover from PTSD, though it’s not always simple or straightforward
  • We have some great advice for employers; read on to learn more.

The PTSD UK website offers that great information for employers. I’ve taken a slice from the first paragraph to further define the context of the PTSD can manifest itself. Here are typical symptoms:

Traumatic flashback episodes, nightmares, feelings of intense stress, a pounding heartbeat, rapid breathing, muscle tension, sweating, sleep problems, hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, being easily moved to tears, irritability, aggressive behaviour, difficulty concentrating, depression, and a sense of detachment from people and situations.

Not pleasant reading and there are more. If you’re anything like me you probably read those symptoms and thought, well, they could be symptomatic of any number of conditions- including Anxiety and Depression, two of the most common causes of workplace absence.

And in the absence of a diagnosis (which can be time consuming) the person suffering may not even recognise their feelings or experiences as symptoms of PTSD.

Supporting someone in the workplace

If PTSD is suspected or diagnosed, there are some simple adjustments that can be made to help in the workplace. Obviously, what helps one person may not help another. And it’s important to remember that the purpose of these adjustments is not to “fix” the person. That’s up to the professionals.

Here are some practical suggestions from the PTSDUK website:

  • Dependant on the trauma suffered, simple specific considerations can make a huge difference, like not expecting an employee to travel to meetings in a car, if a car accident featured in their trauma. Or travelling alone to another city at night if they have previously been assaulted.
  • Giving employees an option to choose where they sit can help in alleviating anxiety- Some may prefer to face the door, or not have their back to the room etc.
  • Noise (as with all the senses) can be a powerful trigger. Somewhere with minimal noise is best, like a private office if that’s practical, or with soft ambient music playing. Let them wear headphones if that helps.
  • Flexible working hours: a fairly obvious concept, especially where sufferers struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Task management: breaking tasks into smaller chunks where concentration is an issue. And perhaps more time to complete a task to reduce the heightened impact of stress from the pressure of looming deadlines.

Some of this is common sense. Trouble is, I have found that to be a rare commodity, especially in business!

A word of warning

Listening non-judgementally and creating an environment where people feel safe enough to openly talk about their experiences is generally great advice in most things to do with wellbeing and mental ill health. A word of warning however.

If PTSD is suspected, I would not advise managers to probe into the reasons or cause of the PTSD with the person, to understand and show empathy. You simply don’t know what may be disclosed and the impact of “re-living” the event may cause distress or trigger an episode. Leave it to those qualified to take care of such things.

Whether these suggestions are obvious or not, I encourage you to have a more detailed read. And be sure to look at the PTSD UK website in general, where you will find some truly informative material and some inspiring stories.

Showing our mettle

Before you go…eleven members of the Oakwood team are getting wet and muddy in September, throwing ourselves around the "Wild Warrior" extreme obstacle course to raise money for PTSD.

Please don’t feel compelled, but know that all of us here at Oakwood would be delighted should you wish to support us by sponsoring us here. It’s for a fantastic cause.

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About the Author

Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.