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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a debilitating illness that inhibits the individual's life.

One of the many areas that PTSD affects is the work place. There are many individuals with PTSD who are able to work, and are functioning at a level where they are able to hold a job; some successfully, and some just barely.

The level of success one has at her place of employment depends on many factors, including the level of impairment, and support outside and inside the work environment.

Although, at times, the experiencing of symptoms is unavoidable, there are actions and safeguards that can be taken to avoid exacerbating them.

Accommodations can be made to protect the individual, and provide a safer work environment where the individual feels more comfortable and has the ability to engage in self-care while at work.

From the supervisors to the front line staff, we all need to care for those affected with PTSD. As with physical handicaps, through gaining an understanding and providing accommodations, we can cast a wide net of support for those suffering.

We owe it to our veterans returning home, as well as to every trauma survivor, to create a supportive work environment.

It starts with education, and continues through making the necessary modifications to create a successful experience. It benefits the individual as well as the company when people come together for the betterment of one person.

A place of employment is where individuals work together toward a common goal. Supporting the individual with PTSD should be a common goal for everyone.

A weak link in a chain can be reinforced to become a valuable asset in strengthening the whole. At times, it may be a challenging task, but there is great work to be done.

Some examples of problems associated with the workplace for those who have PTSD are:

  • Memory problems
  • Lack of concentration
  • Difficulty retaining information
  • Feelings of fear or anxiety
  • Physical problems
  • Poor interactions with coworkers
  • Unreasonable reactions to situations that trigger memories
  • Absenteeism
  • Interruptions if employee is still in an abusive relationship, harassing phone calls, etc.
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Panic attacks

Coworkers

Educate self on PTSD: Having an overview of the symptoms of PTSD is a starting point to supporting someone struggling with it. Providing assistance to the survivor varies by individual.

Ask how you can assist: It would be helpful to ask the individual what she needs. Practical assistance, such as walking them to their car at night, or being a safe person to talk to, can prove to be invaluable to a survivor.

Listen to what the survivor has to say: So often, assumptions are made when people are speaking. We feel as if we are helping by "filling in the blanks" when people are talking when what we are really doing is interrupting them. Listening to an individual can sometimes be all that is needed at the time. Listening without interruption, without an agenda, and without the need to steer the conversation can prove to be very supportive to individuals. If the employee has difficulty verbalizing, permit her to communicate needs in writing.

Be open to communication about accommodations: Being open to a dialogue about the specific accommodations necessary will enhance everyone's understanding of what is expected. It will also give the coworker the opportunity to clarify what specifically will be helpful.

Employers and Supervisors

Some things that a supervisor can do to assist the employee with PTSD are:

Listen to the employee's limitations related to job performance. For instance, if a woman has a history of sexual assault that occurred during the night, and fears walking alone, she may request to have someone walk her to her car at night. She may even request not to work after dark.

Identify what specific tasks may be challenging. At times, PTSD symptoms may manifest themselves in cognitive challenges. An employee may need more time to finish a task, or need an office which has less distractions.

Identify specifically how you can assist. The best way to find out how you can assist someone is to ask. This may be something that develops over time, as the employee may not be aware of limitations until she runs into them. An open dialogue about how the employer can assist would be helpful from the beginning.

Some survivors of abuse will feel embarrassed to admit they need help, so it is important to keep asking.

Continue Reading PTSD & The Workplace: Page 2

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