Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Overview

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful or frightening experiences. All types of people can be affected by the condition, although it is associated with serving in the military. PTSD can develop immediately after the traumatic event, but sometimes it can take years for symptoms to present themselves. PTSD affects 3% of the UK population.

What are the triggers, signs and symptoms of PTSD?

Triggers of PTSD are different types of traumatic events, such as:

  • Road accidents
  • Violent assaults (sexual, mugging, etc.)
  • Serious health problems
  • Traumatic experiences during childbirth

Complex PTSD is sometimes diagnosed in people who had repeated exposure to traumatic events. This is often more severe if the trauma was experienced in early life.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the event through nightmares and flashbacks
  • Nausea and sweating while re-experiencing
  • Feeling isolated
  • Irritability and guilt
  • Concentration problems
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Phobias

How often a person with PTSD experiences the different types of episodes can vary. 

How does PTSD get diagnosed and treated?

GPs can assess symptoms in conversation with the person to determine the type of treatment appropriate to the individual. Referral and treatment by a mental health service is usually the course of action if symptoms have been presenting for four weeks or more. 2 in 3 people will experience an improvement in symptoms in the space of a few weeks and will not require treatment.

Psychological treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy, which involves change thought and behaviour patterns used to deal with the event.

Group therapy can also help people by enabling them to speak about their experiences with people who have experienced a similar thing.

Medication is sometimes prescribed too, such as an antidepressant. This is only resorted to in the case of ongoing trauma, severe underlying depression or anxiety, or in the case of someone choosing not to try psychological therapy.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee with PTSD might require reasonable adjustments:

The employee may or may not wish to disclose their PTSD, as many people feel shame regarding their PTSD. Regardless, questions regarding the nature of any additional needs and what extra support may be required can be broached sensitively. For example:

  • Have they required adjustments in the past? It is important that an employer does not jump to conclusions or assumptions based on their existing understanding of PTSD, but instead keep up a dialogue with the employee, in order to empower them in spite of their condition.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with PTSD?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with PTSD if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has PTSD. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of PTSD:

  • Extra time to complete tasks to accommodate difficulties the person may have juggling work tasks and depressive thoughts, for example.
  • A structured working day to allow the employee to concentrate more easily.
  • Adjustment to duties so that the person with PTSD can keep themselves and others as safe as possible. For example, people with PTSD are required to inform the DVLA, in case their ability to drive safely has been impacted. An employee may, as a result, be unable to commute, or operate machinery at work. This would also apply if there were any scenarios or duties which may trigger a flashback for the employee, or cause them distress relating to their PTSD.
  • Time off to attend appointments, so that the person can work on recovery while staying in work.
  • Sensory adjustments, for example, allowing the employee to sit away from loud noises, or allowing them to wear noise-cancelling headphones if they are at risk of experiencing a flashback.
  • Flexibility regarding working from home if the employee cannot drive to work, or is experiencing particularly distressing symptoms and would prefer to be in the comfort of their own home.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s PTSD and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work. This might involve learning more about the condition to gain a better understanding of what the employee might be facing day-to-day.

PTSD Signposting

PTSD UK – charity providing support and information for anyone with PTSD, as well as working to improve services and raise awareness and understanding of the condition among the general public and communities at risk from PTSD. (New charity which doesn’t yet have a dedicated helpline).

PTSD Resolution – charity providing counselling and support to ex-military personnel and reservists, enabling them to reintegrate into normal life after military trauma (0300 302 0551).

Mind – mental health charity with resources and advice to support someone with PTSD and the impact this may have on their wellbeing (0300 123 3393).

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