PTSD

Resources and strategies in support of PTSD symptoms.

About the Issue

 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by witnessing or experiencing actual or threatened death, serious injury or violence. While being affected by these types of events is normal, it can become harmful to individuals if thoughts and memories of the incident persist and seriously affect the life of the person long after the traumatic event has passed.

 

An event is considered traumatic when it is very frightening, overwhelming or causes a lot of distress. Usually, these events coincide with the incident occurring unexpectedly and the individual feeling powerless to stop or prevent the incident from reoccurring.

 

For this reason, many people who suffer from PTSD will avoid reminders of the event; a common example is an individual who was hurt in a car accident will suddenly avoid driving. People suffering from PTSD may also feel anxious, be startled easily, have a hard time concentrating, feel irritable or have troubles sleeping, all of which have serious implications for performance at work.

 

Certain occupations, such as military personnel, first responders, doctors and nurses experience higher rates of PTSD than other professions, particularly if the traumatic events are likely to repeat regularly. Because of this, Ontario has taken steps to address the harmful impacts of exposure to traumatic events on first responders and healthcare workers.

PTSD 3

Background

 

First responders put their lives at risk each and every day to keep all of us safe, and it’s important we provide our first responders with the same unconditional support they provide to us when we need them. Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the Hon. Kevin Flynn, committed Ontario to being a leader in dealing with first responder PTSD. He brought forward a plan that addressed prevention of and resiliency to PTSD, as well as legislation that makes PTSD a workplace presumption for first responders.

 

We know the solution lies with a comprehensive approach which includes both preventative and legislative measures. The Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act 2016 received royal assent on April 6, 2016, and is a key component of that comprehensive strategy. The act provides a presumption that PTSD diagnosed in first responders is work-related, allowing for faster access to WSIB benefits, resources and timely treatment needed to heal and return to work safely. The diagnosis must be made by a psychiatrist or psychologist and be consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The act also amends the Ministry of Labour Act to allow the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development to collect information about an employer’s plans to prevent PTSD and authorizes the Minister to publish those plans.

 

The following first responder workers, if diagnosed with PTSD, are now presumed to have sustained the disorder out of and in the course of employment:

  • police officers
  • firefighters (full-time, part-time, voluntary) and fire investigators
  • emergency response team members
  • paramedics
  • emergency medical attendants
  • ambulance service managers
  • workers in a correction institution, secure custody or secure temporary detention
  • dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services
  • members of the College of Nurses of Ontario who provide patient care
  • provincial bailiffs
  • probation officers and supervisors
  • special constables
  • police force members who perform work in a forensic identification unit or violent crime linkage analysis system

Impacts on Workplace Health and Safety

 

Symptoms of PTSD can interfere with an individual’s ability to work in numerous ways. For individuals suffering from PTSD, ordinary tasks can become overwhelming. Since one of the main symptoms is avoiding places and situations associated with the traumatic event, workers who have experienced trauma in the workplace may have difficulty returning to work.

 

Unfortunately, research has shown that workers who have difficulty returning to work also tend to experience more persistent PTSD symptoms and may turn to self-injury behaviours (i.e. substance abuse, self-mutilation or even suicide) as a coping mechanism.

 

Other symptoms of PTSD that may affect the workplace include memory problems, lack of concentration, trouble staying awake, fear and anxiety, depression, panic attacks, emotional outbursts, feeling numb and absenteeism.

 

Managing PTSD at work can be especially difficult. Without clear strategies in place to help develop an effective return-to-work plan, workers suffering from PTSD symptoms may remain in a cycle that prevents them from returning to work and that negatively impacts their ability to overcome their PTSD symptoms. The pattern of physical and mental strain can take a toll on well-being, ability to care for others and sometimes health and safety at work. Having balance can make everyone’s work experience more comfortable and can help build a strong foundation for building coping skills.

man with lantern

Man with lamp walking illuminating his path

Current Efforts

 

PSHSA developed firstrespondersfirst.ca and frontlinehealthcare.ca which offer free online toolkits for the first responder community and healthcare community respectively. They were designed to help employers establish a PTSD Prevention Plan and Program and have been validated through established research to understand the various steps of a PTSD program. The aim for employers is to provide access to resources and simplify the process of building their PTSD prevention plan.

Your Role in Addressing the Issue

 

PTSD can be difficult to deal with but should not be avoided. Addressing the issue and supporting workers who are experiencing PTSD will enhance the worker’s quality of life, improve work performance and end unnecessary struggles. Providing accommodations and support can help the individual to better manage and overcome any physical or psychological limitations they may be facing.

 

Organizations can support workers suffering from PTSD by providing access to support services and time needed to attend such support. Employers and supervisors should promote a work culture that encourages workers to seek the necessary help and provide education and training for all members on dealing with impacts of PTSD in the workplace. Establishing an effective prevention plan helps workers:

 

  • understand the impact of traumatic exposures on workers and the workplace.
  • take steps to identify and implement prevention, intervention, recovery and return to work strategies.
  • build a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace and breaks down stigma barriers.

 

People returning to work after a traumatic event may also need to transition back through less demanding tasks. It is important to remember that no one is untouched by a traumatic event. By acknowledging common reactions such as grief, sadness, anger and anxiety, using the appropriate supports and establishing an effective prevention plan, workers can move forward from the trauma in a healthy and safe manner.

 

Launched in 2013, the first of its kind in the world, the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work. In 2018, the Canadian Standards Association published a new psychological health and safety standard to address the specific needs of paramedic service organizations. The standard is built on leading best practices and research, and key guidance and concepts from the 2013 Standard. Adopting the Standard can help organizations with productivity, financial performance, risk management, organizational recruitment, and employee retention.

Next Steps

 

PSHSA is ready to help employers establish their PTSD Prevention Plans and Programs. Our team members include first responders, healthcare workers and professional mental health experts. We work hard to ensure our services meet the needs of all organizations regardless of size, resource availability or location. The services are based on the PTSD Prevention Framework and aim to encourage organizations to build plans that align with their culture and existing Health and Safety Management System.

Contact a PSHSA Consultant
For more information and support in building a PTSD Prevention Plan and help reducing the impacts of PTSD on workers and the workplace.

PSHSA Resources

Building a PTSD Prevention Plan
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by witnessing or experiencing actual or threatened death, serious injury or violence.
New Research Findings on Risks of Occupational Stress Injury Among Canadian First Responders and Frontline Healthcare Workers
The OSIR Index can be used to evaluate current occupational stress injury risk of employees as well as the effectiveness of programs and resources in reducing occupational stress injury.
PTSD and Anti-Stigma Awareness eLearning
This course serves as a foundation for those who are looking to create awareness and a common understanding throughout their organizations.
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