PTSD Series Part 2: Building Resilience
The longer that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms are experienced and not addressed, the greater the difficulty in treatment and reengagement in daily life. Early recognition and intervention is needed to prevent the loss of routines, habits, and roles. Without awareness and training, employees and employers may find it difficult to recognize the symptoms of PTSD and delay treatment until the consequences on the employee’s life and work become much more serious and permanent.
By building resilience to the consequences of PTSD, employees can learn to adapt and recover from their trauma and return to meaningful activity at work, at home, and in the community.
To learn more about what PTSD is, read Part 1 in our PTSD series: Promoting Awareness.
What is Resilience?
Resilience training is a primary means of preventing harmful mental health consequences resulting from PTSD. What is resilience? The American Psychological Association website states, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves ‘bouncing back’ from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.” The article goes on to say, “Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality” (APA, 2012).
In addition to helping employees personally recover from trauma, other desired outcomes from resiliency can include “improved performance, lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism, a reduction in substance abuse, increased involvement in work, community, or familial activities, and increased physical and mental health” (First Responders First, 2021).
Challenges to Seeking Treatment
Without PTSD awareness, affected individuals may receive delayed treatment to their symptoms and experience worse outcomes as a result. However, even if signs of a mental health are recognized, stigma can prevent employees from reaching out for help. Stigmatization of those with PTSD may include the following actions: promotion of mental health stereotypes, trivialization or belittling of PTSD, using insulting language (e.g., crazy, lazy, faker), and exclusion of those with PTSD from opportunities to work (First Responders First, 2021). Employees may also feel self-stigma or be embarrassed about having a mental illness, which can lead to concealment and lack of treatment.
To prevent long-standing consequences of PTSD, employees need support from workplaces to provide them with resiliency training and education on healthy coping strategies and healthy lifestyles vs. turning to substance abuse and avoidance. The need for consistent funding for professional treatment can be a challenge but investing in employee’s mental health early can save employers costs in absenteeism and lost productivity down the road. Research shows that employees diagnosed with a mental illness who receive appropriate treatment save their employer an average of 11 days of absence a year (McGill University, 2018).
How to Develop Resilience
- Psychoeducation – In an article by Arnetz et al. 2008, researchers discussed the benefit of education sessions, including imagery training and mental skills rehearsal with police officers as a means to develop resilience to exposure to trauma. Psychoeducation may also include stress management, relaxation, healthy lifestyle choices, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills training.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness has been found to increase resilience, improve mental health, improve emotional intelligence and physical health as well as decrease fatigue, anger, burnout, and perceived general stress. In an article by Trombka et al in 2021, researchers found that Mindfulness training reduced PTSD symptoms and improved stress-related health outcomes in police officers.
- Engage in Physical Exercise – This may include any type of cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, cycling or yoga. Exercise increases quality of life, improves self-esteem, lowers blood pressure, and reduces job stress. Yoga also can result in a reduction in perceived stress and improve mood.
- Build connections with empathetic people and talk about feelings with them. Experiencing symptoms of PTSD can result in fears that your co-workers may not be understanding or supportive. Regrettably, there continues to be a stigma attached to mental health challenges, particularly among first responders.
- Sleep – After surviving a psychological trauma, many people experience difficulty sleeping. This could include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Taking care of your body by practicing healthy sleeping routines can strengthen your ability to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of your emotions.
What Can Employers Do?
- Know the signs of PTSD. Learn more about the symptoms, causes, and impacts.
- Take steps to prevent further onset of mental illness. Educate employees and employers through anti-stigma programs and resiliency training and implement policies and procedures to address mental health and wellness.
- Prepare for conversations with employees. Gather information about new changes in behaviour, consider the effects of the concern, and determine what assistance can be provided to the employee.
- Respond to employee in distress. Listen to the distressed employee with respect and patience, find out if the employee has a support system in place, and involve yourself only as far as you can go given the limits of your role.
- Maintain confidentiality. Recognize there is a stigma around mental illness and keep personal health records private and on a need-to-know basis.
- Offer support and assistance. Consider possible work adjustments, provide access to the EAP provider, and suggest that the individual contact their healthcare provider to seek assistance.
- Identify possible risks of suicide or harm. Encourage employees to reach out to distress lines for assistance and in critical situations, call 911. The Canada Suicide Prevention Service can be reached for help at 833-456-4566.
- Engage an Occupational Therapist to help. OTs can screen for decreased functioning with employees and assist with accommodations for affected individuals to continue meaningful work.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
At Gowan Consulting, we are committed to ensuring workplaces are psychologically healthy and that employees and managers have the tools and resources they need to address existing and potential risks of PTSD in a timely manner. We offer Occupational Therapy intervention for all mental health conditions, including PTSD. Our programs include the following:
- Training, such as Manager Mental Health Training, so you can identify employees who may be at risk and in need of Occupational Therapy
- Group resilience training and mental health improvement programs, which include stress management, coping strategies, relaxation techniques, mindfulness training, problem solving and communication skills, and DBT tools and techniques for managing anxiety.
- Individual education and strategy development to promote health and wellness while staying at work.
- Early intervention to assist in successful return to work and stay at work. Make a referral with Gowan Consulting for Occupational Therapy services.
- Referral to other specialists when it is appropriate and necessary to do so (i.e., the employee is in crisis or in need of a diagnosing healthcare practitioner).
Building your Resilience. American Psychological Association. 2012. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
Resiliency. First Responders First. Accessed June 16, 2021. http://www.firstrespondersfirst.ca/prevention-2/page-3/#resiliency
Ash-Maheaux, R., Bartczak, M., Monteferrante, & J., Zaran, H. (2018, March). Spotting PTSD: A PTSD Toolkit for First Responders. McGill University. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323607557