Recognizing PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that develops after experiencing an injury or severe psychological shock – either from a personal experience or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms typically involve reliving the traumatic incident through a vivid recall, either through dreaming or outward triggers causing flashbacks. PTSD is often accompanied by other mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety. Those who suffer from PTSD frequently withdraw from their social lives, losing interest in their regular hobbies or activities. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder use avoidance and repression to cope – often avoiding places that may have triggers and attempting to forget the traumatic event occurred. Feelings of hyper-arousal, guilt, shame and irritability are present in those with PTSD (Ash-Maheaux et al, 2018). This disorder is unique in the mental health world because it initially occurs due to an environmental factor. This means we can gain knowledge as to who is at risk for developing the disorder and how to prevent it.

For more extensive details regarding PTSD, check out our previous blog posted to recognize June as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month!

PTSD and the Workplace

Psychological injury is a diagnosable psychological condition that is caused by a stressing event. It leads, or can lead to, legal-related claims such as workers’ compensation. This means post-traumatic stress disorder is legally considered an occupational stress injury (OSI). OSI is a way of referring to psychological problems that occur due to traumatic instances in the workplace. Any workplace has the potential for traumatic instances to occur, however there are occupations where employees are more likely to be exposed to traumatic situations. The two most at-risk occupations for developing post-traumatic stress disorder are those in the Canadian Armed Forces and first responders. More specifically, 12-35% of police officers may meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD at any given point and 27% of paramedics report suicidal thoughts due to mental injury from job situations (2018). Employees who meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder often lose the ability to function in their role. They may no longer be able to cope with job demands, may engage in avoidance behaviours such as not showing up to work and their cognitive function may diminish, amongst other symptoms.

What Should Employers and Employees Do?

It’s important for employers and employees to both promote a psychologically healthy and safe work environment. 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 (2018). The employer and employee need to work together to start the conversation regarding mental health. Employers should encourage employees to come forward with mental health concerns and provide resources for mental wellness. Prevention strategies need to be in place for occupations at risk for developing stress-related mental illness. There are three intervention and prevention strategies to be implemented:

  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. Check out our Employee Resiliency Training webinar to develop resiliency skills!
  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. Our 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, using an Occupational Therapist to assist with accommodations for the employee to continue meaningful work (2018).

Assistance in the Workplace

Prevention and early intervention are the best ways to keep employees safe and healthy at work. However, sometimes employees who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder need to take a leave from work. Gowan Consulting is currently offering our newly revised Mental Health and Return to Work Workshop! Participants will develop the skills to manage stay at and return to work for employees with mental illness/distress. Participants will learn how to accommodate cognitive and behavioural limitations and get the information to manage sustainable return to work! Register now to reserve your spot!

For more information on the training and resources we provide, please contact us! We would love to assist you in the workplace!


Works Cited

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

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