PTSD Series Part 1: Promoting Awareness

PTSD Series Part 1: Promoting Awareness

June 27th is PTSD Awareness Day. This observance strives to bring awareness of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) to the public and eliminate stigma. PTSD has a profound effect on the lives of those who suffer from it. Experiencing a trauma can result in physical, emotional, or psychological harm that can interfere with an individual’s ability to cope and engage in meaningful activity.

In a study by Van Ameringen et al in 2008, it was found that 76.1% of Canadians were exposed to at least one traumatic event and 9.2% had experienced symptoms of PTSD at some point in their lifetime.  Despite the effectiveness of treatment, Red Cross reports that only about 50% of PTSD sufferers seek help.

Being aware of the causes, symptoms, and impacts can help employees and employers recognize when an individual needs treatment. Healthcare professionals can enable affected individuals to manage the consequences of their PTSD and live meaningful and productive lives.

To learn more about how individuals can build resilience to symptoms of PTSD, come back next week for PTSD Series Part 2: Building Resilience.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is characterized by psychologically reexperiencing the initial traumatic event, avoiding people or places that may trigger symptoms, acting in aggressive or reckless ways, and experiencing negative cognitions and mood.

The most common traumas that could result in a diagnosis of PTSD include the following:

  • Sexual assault.
  • Physical assault.
  • Sudden or violent death of a loved one.
  • Witnessing or being exposed to situations involving trauma on a repeated basis over and extended period such as Personal Safety Personnel (Paramedics, Firefighters, Police officers), or veterans who have been exposed to combat.
  • Brewin et al in 2000 also found associations between PTSD and preexisting psychiatric or personality disorders, race (minority status), lack of education, socioeconomic status, family psychiatric history and gender.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. This may be due to women’s increased exposure to sexually motivated violence coupled with a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders among women.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life and can result in decreased community integration and social isolation (American Psychological Association, 2013).  Some effects of trauma may show up as the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Reduced impulse control
  • Difficulty in close relationships
  • Physical health issues

PTSD also impacts the ability to engage in self-care, productivity, and leisure, as well as other areas of daily function. 


  • Sleep disturbance (increased arousal keeping the person from falling and staying asleep and nightmares interrupting sleep).
  • Reduced frequency of personal care such as bathing, hygiene and grooming.
  • Reduction of healthy eating.
  • Reduced engagement in physical fitness and other healthy lifestyle choices.


  • Problems in school or work performance.
  • Safety while driving.
  • Difficulty returning to or maintaining one’s position at work.
  • Loss of identity where identity is tied closely to line of work (i.e., soldier, police officer, fire fighter).


  • Overall decrease in interests as well as decreased motivation to engage in activities and hobbies they previously found pleasurable.
  • Demonstration of interpersonal problems within friendships and other intimate relationships leading to social isolation.

Occupational Therapy Treatment

Occupational Therapy can help bridge the gap between a person’s abilities and the demands of their job, home, community, and family. The focus of OT intervention is on treating the consequences of PTSD and enabling those living with PTSD to participate in meaningful occupations. Occupational Therapists can help employees with the following:

  • Establishing a safety plan.
  • Returning to a healthy balanced lifestyle including personal care, getting out into the community and return to work.
  • Returning to a healthy routine and regular self-care by introducing healthy coping strategies.
  • Encouraging feelings of autonomy, independence, and accomplishment, as well as self-worth and well-being, by using meaningful activities.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to provide teaching and instruction on distress tolerance skills, emotion regulation skills, resilience, and acceptance.
  • Re-engagement in life roles such as parent/spouse and participating in household and family activities.
  • Reintegration into community life – friends, family, and other daily activities.
  • Developing a gradual return to work that builds on the employee’s strengths and resiliency while developing confidence and work-based coping strategies.

How Can Employees Deal with Trauma?

If you or someone you love or work with has experienced a trauma and is struggling with daily activities such as self-care, engaging in productive and meaningful activities, or leisure, you may benefit from professional assessment and intervention. As an initial step, your EAP program, family doctor, or workplace medical center can be a good source of information and referral to providers who specifically work in trauma care.

Professional help may include a psychologist or psychotherapist for trauma processing or an Occupational Therapist for exposure therapy and return to work planning.

Activities that employees can try at home to help manage their trauma include the following:

  • Reestablishing a routine and healthy eating
  • Incorporating physical exercise
  • Grounding exercises
  • Evidence-based interventions such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, aerobic exercise, and spending time in nature

How Can Employers Help?

Employers should encourage employees to come forward with mental health concerns and provide resources for mental wellness. Intervention and prevention strategies that can be implemented include the following: 

  1. Primary Prevention – Implements the strategies before the onset of an illness or injury to develop the necessary skills to prevent illness or injury. For example, providing resiliency training and coping strategies.
  2. Secondary Prevention – Includes early detection of traumatic stress and rapid intervention to prevent it from becoming a chronic illness or having a negative impact on the individual’s life. For example, decreased functioning, decreased social relationships and development of mental health conditions. Functional cognitive assessments are an excellent screening tool to detect decreased functioning in employees.
  3. Tertiary Prevention – Interventions aim to limit the negative impact of chronic PTSD and increase the quality of life and everyday function of a person. For example, an Occupational Therapist can assist with accommodations for the employee to continue meaningful work.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting’s Occupational Therapists’ unique occupational lens and focus on empowerment and promotion of health and well-being makes them ideally placed to work with persons with PTSD as they work to regain control over their lives. A proper Occupational Therapy assessment can assist the employer and employee in discussing suitable adjustments to the work and safety in return to work. An Occupational Therapist can also develop a suitable plan with your workplace stakeholders and healthcare team to ensure that the employee is safe and productive and the plan is well monitored.

We can also provide preventative tools, strategies, and training for your team. We offer resiliency training for employees, Manager Mental Health Training, and more. View our training options on or contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help your employees.


Edgelow, MacPherson, Arnaly, Tam-Seto and Cramm, Occupational Therapy and posttraumatic stress disorder:  A scoping review.   CJOT 2019 86(2) 148-157

Ash-Maheaux, R., Bartczak, M., Monteferrante, & J., Zaran, H. (2018, March). Spotting PTSD: A PTSD Toolkit for First Responders. McGill University. Retrieved from

PTSD Awareness Day: Talking About a Silent Disorder. June 25, 2020. Red Cross.

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