Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder cause by very stressful frightening or distressing events. In this pathway, we will cover the signs and symptoms of PTSD and how we can help people currently living with the disorder. 

In our everyday lives, we can experience events that are frightening, threatening or out of our control. We could witness an accident, be the victim of an assault or be involved in a car crash.  Most of the time, people can get over experiences such as these without needing any help. PTSD occurs if these experiences last many months or years.

A recent study has found that 1 in 5 police officers in the UK currently suffer from PTSD. Due to the nature of their work, police officers, other emergency service workers, and those in the military are more likely than offer professions to suffer from the condition, however, regardless of occupation, awareness of PTSD needs to increase and employers need to be better at spotting the signs of the condition. 

When we think of PTSD, we automatically think of those in the military and emergency services, however, there are many events which we all at some point could experience that can lead to PTSD: 

  • Car accidents
  • Suffering an injury
  • Abuse, including childhood and domestic abuse
  • Serious health problems, such as being admitted into intensive care
  • Childbirth experiences 
  • Witnessing a death

After experiencing a severe trauma, around 1 in 3 people develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD usually arise within 6 months of a person experiencing a traumatic event. As well as feelings such as grief, depression, anxiety, guilt and anger; there are three main types of symptoms of PTSD: 

  1. Flashbacks & Nightmares

Sufferers find themselves reliving the event over and over again through either flashbacks when they’re awake, or nightmares when they are asleep. Flashbacks and nightmares can be extremely realistic and are often accompanied by the feelings and reactions the person experienced during the actual event, such as sweating, fear, smells, sound and pain. 

2.   Avoidance & Numbing 

In attempts to distract themselves from re-living the event, sufferers often use avoidance tactics such as avoiding people and places that remind them of the trauma, refusing to talk about the event, or becoming engrossed in hobbies and work. 

Some people deal with the pain from the trauma by trying to feel nothing at all – in essence, becoming emotionally numb. They detach themselves from everything and everyone around them, communicating less and avoiding social interactions. 

3.    Hypervigilant 

Being hyper vigilant means being ‘on guard’ and alert all of the time. Those with PTSD find themselves constantly looking out for dangerous situations, preventing them from switching off. Because they are unable to switch off, being hyper vigilant also comes with feelings of anxiety. 

Spotting the signs 

Because those with PTSD avoid talking about the traumatic event they have experienced, it can be hard to recognise when someone has it. However, they are some tell tale signs that present themselves when someone is suffering from the condition: 

  • Poor performance at work 
  • Poor punctuality
  • High absence levels
  • Anger
  • Jumpy
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lack of interest
  • Lack of concentration 

Do’s and Don’ts 

If you think one of your employees, colleagues is showing signs of PTSD, here are some pointers as to what to do and what not to do. 

Do: 

  • Let them know you have noticed a change in their behaviour and ask them if they would like to talk about it 
  • Take the time to allow them to tell their full story 
  • Ask general questions
  • Let them talk – don’t interrupt them or start talking about your own experiences
  • Recommend they visit their GP 

Don’t 

  • Tell them you know how they feel
  • Tell them ‘you’re lucky to be alive’
  • Minimise their experience – ‘it’s not that bad surely…’
  • Suggest they just ‘pull themselves together’ 
  • Not act on your instinct – if you think something is wrong, act on it 

In Summary: PTSD is a mental health disorder that arises after a person experiences a traumatic event. The awareness of PTSD is a lot lower in comparison to other mental health conditions, therefore, being aware of and spotting the signs and symptoms of PTSD is important to better understanding the condition, and helping those that are in need. 

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