PTSD in the Workplace: Strategies for Supporting Employees

PTSD in the Workplace: Strategies for Supporting Employees

By: Tristen Wendland

When we hear the acronym PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), we often think of combat war veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a relatively new term. In WWI and WWII, it was referred to as shell shock or combat fatigue. The term was developed in the 1970s after the Vietnam War when service members returned with similar symptoms. It wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized it as a disorder.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, it is estimated that around 6-7% of the U.S. population will deal with PTSD in their lifetime. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, women are at higher risk at 8% compared to men at 4%. In addition to combat stress, PTSD can be related to natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, sexual assault, or other types of violent assault.

Impact of PTSD on the Workforce

According to the American Psychologic Society, the symptoms of PTSD sometimes cause significant distress for many individuals. It impacts their social and occupational participation to a degree that is significant. It can impact their ability to engage in self-care and home care activities, education, work roles, and social and leisure activities. Participating in ordinary tasks can become quite overwhelming, and the ability to develop and maintain relationships is often impacted. There is also an increased risk of self‑injury behaviors, such as substance abuse, self‑mutilation, and even a high risk of suicide.

How Employers Can Help

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Workers Compensation, employees may benefit from returning to work on a part‑time basis. Modified work schedules or shared employment can be beneficial. To accommodate individual needs, employers should:

  • Provide instructions or job-related responsibilities in writing as well as verbal instructions
  • Offer additional training or refreshers to assist individuals with memory difficulties
  • Allow workers to maintain more flexible schedules and be able to take time off for any treatment or appointments
  • Permit time to complete non-urgent tasks
  • Let employees wear noise-canceling headphones to reduce distractions
  • Increase the amount of light in the work environment to help maintain alertness and improve concentration
  • Remove emotional triggers that remind the employee of the upsetting trauma (when possible)
  • Make sure parking areas are well-lit and/or security personnel are available to accompany them when walking to a car or unsafe locations in the dark

Be a Champion for Treatment

With treatment, the prognosis of recovery is positive, and PTSD symptoms can be managed. People with PTSD who sought treatment had symptoms lasting an average of 36 months, while those who did not have symptoms lasting an average of 64 months. While approximately one-third of people do not achieve full symptom elimination with treatment, most individuals experience a significant reduction in the intensity of their symptoms. It is important to understand that when an employee is struggling, and performance is low, there may be underlying issues that need to be addressed by managers.


About the Author

Tristen Wendland Headshot

Tristen Wendland, MS, LPC  is a 25-year military spouse. She’s no longer a Magellan Federal employee but is still supporting the Wounded Care Program (WCP) contract. Tristen has worked throughout her spouse’s Army career within the federal government and worked for the last 18 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Readiness and Employment program. Currently, she serves as the Operation Warfighter (OWF) Regional Coordinator for Region 8 Rocky Mountain and Great Plains Region, which covers ND, SD, NE, KS, WY, UT, and CO.