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Workplace Trauma Can Trigger PTSD

Alternate description
LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Most of us have heard the stories of combat soldiers and post-traumatic stress disorder,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’ Sullivan, “but the fact is, anyone who has endured or witnessed a traumatic event – a tragic workplace accident, for example – can develop PTSD.”

Workplace PTSD

Traumatic accidents happen even in the most safety conscious workplaces. When they occur, a prompt Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) can help employees and their families cope. Contact your regional health and safety fund, Tri-Fund Field Coordinator or LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division (202-628-5465) to access this assistance. The Fund’s Critical Incident Stress Management brochure also provides insight.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal. Events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, catastrophic accidents (including those at work) or military combat.

How Does PTSD Develop?

Strong emotions caused by traumatic events may create changes in the brain that result in PTSD.

Most people who go through a traumatic event have some symptoms at the beginning, but only some will develop PTSD. It is not clear why some people develop PTSD and others do not. How likely you are to get PTSD depends on many things including:

  • How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted
  • How close you were to the injured person(s)
  • How close you were to the event
  • How strong your reaction was
  • How much you felt in control of events
  • How much help and support you got after the event

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can be scary and unnerving. They may disrupt your life and make it difficult to continue with your daily activities. It may be hard just to get through the day.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event. However, they may not surface until months or years later. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause great distress or interfere with your work or home life, you should speak with a professional about your symptoms. Symptoms can include:

  • Repeated flashbacks
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Extreme irritability or anger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Hearing or seeing things that are not there

It is important to remember that even when a traumatic event does not lead to PTSD, witnesses or loved ones can be affected by the event.

“As with our returning warriors, PTSD is not a sign of weakness,” says O’Sullivan. “If you or someone you care about has gone through a traumatic experience and is having difficulty coping, seek help as soon as possible.”

Recovery is a gradual, ongoing process. Healing does not occur overnight, nor do the memories of the trauma ever disappear completely. While this can make life seem difficult at times, there are many things you can do to cope with residual symptoms and reduce your anxiety and fear:

  • Speak with your doctor
  • Speak with a mental health professional
  • Learn about trauma and PTSD
  • Join a PTSD support group, in person or on-line
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Confide in a person you trust: family, friend, clergy person
  • Spend time with positive people
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs

For support, check with your Member Assistance Program (MAP) or health and welfare fund, if benefits are available. Additionally, the LHSFNA has compiled a list of mental health resources and a special veterans section that can help you as you deal with any mental health issue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner and Jamie Becker. Becker is the LHSFNA’s Associate Director, Health Promotion.]

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