PTSD Awareness Month
June is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. In the UK it is believed that 1 in 3 people will have experienced a traumatic event in their life. Trauma can be caused by any kind of abuse, physical, emotional, sexual, witnessing abuse, witnessing any kind of crime, a relationship breakdown, workplace bullying, war etc. On the anniversary of the Grenfell fire this brings PTSD into sharp focus. Residents are still recovering from what they witnessed in 2016. In many cases having no permanent home and no real answers as to why they were no real safety measure in place for them.
In light of George Floyd’s brutal murder and Black Lives Matter movement there is collective trauma in Black communities. It’s vital that we understand this and know how to listen and support our friends, colleagues and family accordingly.
The symptoms, therapy and treatments for PTSD are illustrated in the image above courtesy of SupportAFF.
PTSD is often associated more with men that women, however this paper by Miranda Olff from 2016 states that PTSD is experienced by 5-6% or men and 10-12% of women. However, more gender and sex-sensitive research is required to understand this picture fully. It is also Mens Health Week the third week in June, so emphasising the importance of talking and seeking help cannot be overstated. Men are less likely to seek help and more likely to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs due to social expectations and stigma.
So how can you spot the signs and support someone who may be experiencing PTSD? What do you do and what’s helpful? Below are seven ways to support someone in the workplace as a colleague or manager.
1. Ask how they are
There may well be changes in someone’s behaviour if they are experience PTSD. In the workplace you might see someone having more regular or increased panic attacks, poor concentration, mood swings, irritability and/or emotional numbing. You may in some cases notice an increase in alcohol misuse. They may be coming into work still under the influence. Inviting them to speak to you in a quiet space is a good start. Even if they don’t want to tell you anything in that moment, it starts to build a relationship of trust. Let them know you are ready to listen, whenever they want to speak to you.
2. Take the time to listen actively
We often feel we have to have all the answers to help someone. Actually, we don’t have to know what the best course of action is. If the person does want to speak, let them do so freely. Resist the temptation to interrupt them or provide your perspective on things. You may also need to be prepared to actively listen on several occasions as they may way want to relate the story piece-by-piece. This is particularly important if someone talks to you about racial and/or sexual abuse. Engaged silence is supportive.
3. Do not force someone to relive their experience
This links to point two, give the person the time and space they need. Reassure them what they gone through is an understandable reaction/feeling to a traumatic event(s). Also be mindful in most cases, as managers and colleagues we are not trained counsellors. Only encourage them to speak about their reactions (not necessarily the event) if and when they are ready to do so.
4. Signpost them to existing resources such as your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or staff counselling
Most workplaces will have an EAP that provides staff with free sessions of counselling straight away. They can be arranged near to work or home. It is a completely confidential service with no information being passed to the employer. It can also be useful to access to find out more about how to support someone as a manager of colleague.
5. Encourage them to seek professional help
Not everyone will need professional help to recover from a traumatic event. However it may be a good idea for them to speak to their GP who can make a referral and provide guidance. The Mental Health Foundation has a great guide about how to speak to your GP about your mental health. There are also further sources of information you can find at PTSD UK.
6. Make workplace adjustments
There may be particular things that would be helpful to a person experience PTSD at work. Even if you are working remotely. This could be a quiet area, or not being isolated. They may want to tell colleagues what has happened or not. Ask them what would be helpful to create a temporary workplace adjustment plan. This can be reviewed at 1-2-1s or whenever an amendment is needed. This also helps to keep someone in the workplace, which usually aids recovery. Finally, encourage the person to identify other sources of support in and out of the workplace. PTSD UK lists treatment options for those living with PTSD.
7. Be aware of your own emotions and seek support
It is also essential to look after your own wellbeing, as the main listener. Maintain your boundaries, by being clear about what information you can provide and encourage them to decide the best course of action for them. If you need support after you have heard, do not be afraid to speak to someone or use your employee assistance programme. Mind has bank of PTSD resources that can be accessed here.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about this life-long struggle and the people it affects, and how each of us can help make their lives just a little easier. I’d love to hear about what your organisation does to support people who may be experiencing PTSD. If you want to know more about training that can support your workplace you can find out more here.
You can listen to the Diverse Minds podcast here.