Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a person experiences a traumatic event that causes injury or leaves them feeling endangered, frightened, or stressed. Traumatic events cause anxiety, disturbing thoughts, trouble sleeping, flashbacks, and difficulty with relationships. Individuals may also develop health problems such as hypertension.
Experts say that PTSD impacts about 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. each year. In their lifetime, approximately one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD, with women more likely than men to experience work-related PTSD. (Minorities also deal with higher rates of the condition.) Occupations known to produce higher rates of PTSD include military and law enforcement personnel, firefighters, emergency workers, first responders, health care workers, and journalists.
Military and Law Enforcement Personnel
Military and law enforcement personnel live with the threat of harm from adversaries and often witness their colleagues getting injured or killed while defending and protecting others. Working closely with people who die in their presence can cause individuals in these professions to suffer ongoing mental stress and PTSD long after they retire or move on to other work.
Firefighters never know what to expect when an alarm signals them to rush to a fire. They run into burning buildings to rescue people, frequently feel the grief of being unable to save lives, and may lose colleagues while fighting fires. An accumulation of these traumatic experiences can lead to work-related PTSD symptoms.
Emergency Workers, First Responders, and Healthcare Workers
For ambulance drivers, first responders, and healthcare workers, dealing with tragedy is part of the job. Arriving at the scene of an accident and seeing badly injured victims and not being able to save them takes a toll on an ambulance driver. Witnessing the destruction, death, and property loss after natural disasters can also have an impact.
Emergency room personnel and health care workers who treat patients suffering from life-threatening injuries and illness also may experience traumatizing grief and loss. A case in point: the Covid-19 pandemic, which was particularly stressful for healthcare workers who faced daily deaths, long hours, and fears of contracting the virus.
People may not see journalists as victims of post-traumatic stress, but journalists are some of the first to arrive at the scene of accidents, crimes, or disasters. They witness heart-wrenching events, such as family members seeking answers after a fatality or murder, and they must remain professional, reporting the facts while holding back their personal feelings.
Any Worker Can Experience Work PTSD
Work-related post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with military personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, corrections officers, doctors, and nurses. However, any worker can experience post-traumatic stress in the workplace.
In reality, workplace PTSD can happen anywhere an employee feels in danger or threatened. Whether the setting is a corporate office or a manufacturing operation, the stress some employees experience can be overwhelming. Each time they step into the work environment, a feeling of dread overtakes them, and they carry it with them throughout their shift, looking forward to the time when they no longer have to endure it.
Many people can identify with stress that arises from uncomfortable interactions in their workplace. There are many situations that expose workers to PTSD in the workplace, including bad bosses, sexual harassment, bullying, and dangerous work environments.
A manager or supervisor who belittles employees or intimidates them can be a source of traumatic stress in the work environment. This boss may also be a micromanager who does not leave employees free to work without interfering or being critical of their work.
Bad bosses may demand long hours and assign complex tasks with minimal guidance or instructions. Workers who work for these managers may be under constant pressure and afraid of falling out of favor with the boss. To avoid problems, they keep their heads down, do their work, and avoid confrontations at all costs.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is another behavior that can lead to work PTSD. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, asking a coworker for sexual favors, or making comments of a sexual nature. An individual who experiences sexual harassment may be afraid to report it, because they fear losing their job if the harasser is a manager or supervisor.
Bullying in the Workplace
Workplace bullying can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Bullies in the workplace operate in various ways. They may use offensive language, including profanity and hate speech in the presence of coworkers. Workplace bullies may threaten coworkers and intimidate them with unprovoked physical contact. They may exclude coworkers, play pranks, belittle them during meetings, and circulate rumors.
Dangerous Work Environments
People who work in dangerous and potentially dangerous work environments can also struggle with workplace PTSD. Generally, working in a bank may not be considered hazardous. However, if there is a bank robbery and customers or workers are taken hostage or injured, employees who witness the incident could develoop PTSD.
Individuals who work in jobs where they use dangerous equipment and machinery that puts them at risk of life-threatening injuries, such as electrocution, losing a limb, or being crushed, may experience PTSD. Seeing a coworker suffer from injuries and daily hypervigilance can contribute to PTSD.
Effects of Workplace PTSD
When individuals feel belittled, endangered, fearful, or stressed-out while in the workplace, it can seem that the trauma never ends. Workplace post-traumatic stress disorder victims may experience sleeplessness, anger, depression, feelings of helplessness, paranoia, and develop health problems related to stress. Toxic work environments can take their toll on employees. Some workers may turn to alcohol or drugs to help them forget the trauma they experience at work.
Help for People Suffering from Work-Related PTSD
There is help for individuals who struggle with job-induced PTSD. Counseling, specialized therapy, and medications are some options that can help individuals deal with trauma and live healthy lives.
If you or a loved one are living with PTSD, know that life can get better. Call us today at (866) 653-6220. Our compassionate and knowledgeable team of counselors is here 24/7 to answer any questions and extend the hope of recovery.