Mentoring, PTSD, Employees, Workplaces – Now What?

mentoring employees ptsd workplaces

Effective Mentoring: Its Response to Increased PTSD in Employees in the Workplace 
(Effective Mentoring Series - PTSD in the Workplace)  

Doug serves as Director of Education and Co-Founder of the International Mentoring Network. 

Mentoring, PTSD, Employees, and Workplaces 

Increasing numbers of employees showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a growing concern for organizations. 

The International Mentoring Community (IMC) recognizes this issue as having a global impact with negative outcomes when not addressed. Organizations need to create a support structure to identify, help, and monitor employees to start their healing process and produce positive outcomes. 

Most organizations lack the set up and training to fully understand the impact PTSD has on their employees, which in turn, affects the organization’s culture, productivity, and bottom line. 

This ongoing series is to help organisations identify, heal, and monitor PTSD in the workplace for happier, healthier, more productive employees. 

PTSD is not a myth. “Approximately 7 or 8 people out of 100 will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.” *

  • About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (7-8% of the population) suffer from PTSD at some point in their life. 
  • About 8 million adults suffer from PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have experienced trauma. 

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. PTSD has been known by many names in the past, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II. But PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people, of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age.  

It often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.  (* Reference:  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd) 

Each person’s experience is different; however, these are some commonly reported experiences:

  • Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
  • Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.
  • Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.

Many of these experiences can lead to negative perceptions of the PTSD-affected employee in the workplace by managers or teammates, or misinterpretations of communications and acts. 

What is the impact on the organization when an employee is suffering from PTSD?

Those with PTSD have greater rates of work absenteeism, higher numbers of medical visits, an increased likelihood of unemployment or underemployment, lower hourly pay, and increased difficulty meeting work-related demands (Belleville et al., 2012; Clarner et al., 2015; Adler et al., 2011; Ramchaud et al., 2015; Zivin et al., 2011).

These outcomes constrain resources and finances, threatening the livelihood of a company as well as its individual employees.

Furthermore, in 80%- 90% of cases, PTSD is accompanied by another mental disorder (Kessler et al., 1995), most commonly major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, and alcohol use disorder.
PTSD is also associated with an increased risk of suicide attempt, even after controlling for sociodemographic factors like education level and household income (Nepon et al., 2010; Wilcox et al., 2009).
All of these disorders impact the employee, the organization and the employee’s family.
(*Reference: http://workplacementalhealth.org/Mental-Health-Topics/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder) 

The PTSD crisis is upon us and we must act NOW. 

Workplace settings are not treatment settings, so what can managers and human resource professionals do to support their employees and prevent costly workplace problems? Start by creating an environment of awareness, support, and tolerance. Companies can help ensure that those who are living with PTSD can succeed in attaining healthy, productive lives. In future articles we will explore ways that organizations can help workers with PTSD.

In the short term we can leverage effective mentoring practice to work with employees to begin the healing process. Some immediate steps that we can take NOW are:

  • Know your training limit. Refer employees who report symptoms of PTSD to a medical or mental health professional. 
  • Work with an experienced mentor practitioner to gain a deeper and richer understanding of the role mentoring can play in the PTSD experience.
  • Educate yourself on the resources available to PTSD-affected individuals and make them available to employees.
  • Make mentoring a part of a workplace accommodation or return to work plan for individuals struggling with PTSD.

The next article in the Effective Mentoring Series - PTSD in the Workplace will explore the impact of PTSD on gender; what challenges, similarities, and differences affect men and women.

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Onward ... 


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