A year has passed since the fear and reality of COVID set into the western world. Our lives have been turned upside down in countless ways. Work is no longer what it was, kids are struggling to keep up, parents are overwhelmed and exhausted to no end.
Businesses and leadership are seeing valued team members suffering the after-effects of a year in lock-down. At its best, it’s fatigue, missed connection, and distraction. At its worst, it’s depression, illness, and possibly Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
We’re cautious to use this term, reserving it for people who have suffered years of abuse, the horrors of war, or other deep psychological sufferings.
But trauma has been a part of the last year and while there is hope on the horizon, we are not out of the woods yet.
Think of the healthcare industry alone – a field of workers that is near and dear to me. Healthcare professionals and first responders have witnessed an astounding amount of suffering and death. That’s trauma. Constant demand, endless hours, broken support systems. Trauma.
It’s time we look closely at what PTSD is and how to tell if the trauma a colleague has been through has left them suffering from the disorder.
First, what is PTSD?
The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.
I would certainly consider a global health pandemic to be a traumatic event. Millions have died and more continue to face the realities of a life-threatening illness on a daily basis. If that’s not serious, I don’t know what is.
3 Signs of PTSD
- Sleepless nights, irritability, outbursts of anger
- Recurring, intrusive thoughts and images
- Feelings of guilt, anxiety, and sadness – may lead to victims avoiding the people and place where these feelings originated
Many healthcare workers I work closely with are reporting a number of these symptoms. They’re seeing the faces of the victims of COVID struggling to breathe. Their workplace has become a place filled with anxiety and sadness. Many struggle with feelings of guilt over patients dying and passing without family members nearby.
3 Myths about PTSD
Myth #1: Everyone who has gone through a traumatic experience will develop the disorder.
Truth: Not everyone will show signs of PTSD. There is no sure way to know which individuals will exhibit symptoms. When symptoms do develop, taking fast action is a game-changer in whether PTSD will develop further.
Myth #2: Everyone who suffers from PTSD must seek out psychotherapy to get better.
Truth: Everyone copes with trauma in different ways. One of the critical factors that help prevent PTSD from developing or worsening is having a circle of support. Whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, or some combination thereof. Research has shown having people who show they care through genuinely listening, empathy, and encouragement is the most meaningful way to prevent traumatic symptoms from worsening.
Myth #3: Receiving psychotherapy is a sign of weakness
Truth: If PTSD symptoms are starting to interfere with your ability to function day to day, receiving psychotherapy is a sign of strength, not weakness. Having help to sort through what you’ve been through will help them to prevent symptoms from worsening so you can continue to show up as your best, healthy self. You can start by contacting your Employee Assistance Program. The National Institute of Mental health also offers several treatment options.
What happens when we ignore PTSD symptoms?
As leaders, it’s up to us to be on the lookout for symptoms of PTSD in your colleagues and staff. Many are suffering and they don’t need to do it alone. It’s vital to acknowledge the stress individuals are experiencing from lost loved ones, changing job responsibilities, missed socialization, and the ongoing fear of what’s next.
Left unaddressed and untreated, you’ll see the following PTSD symptoms disrupting your organization.
3 workplace indicators of PTSD:
- Heightened conflict and reactive outbursts among peers
- Problems concentrating in meetings or completing work
- Detachment or estrangement from colleagues and leadership
If you see these traits in a previously well-performing team member, be aware that they could be suffering from PTSD due to the pandemic. It’s very hard for us to know what any individual is going through. Have they lost a parent? Are their children falling dangerously behind? Are they recovering from the physical symptoms of COVID and fearful of being infected again? PTSD can appear in many ways and it’s as serious as it sounds.
Now is the time to address troubled individuals with compassion, understanding, and knowledge. Your leadership team is responsible for understanding what the symptoms of PTSD look like in the workplace and helping staff to get the support they need.
Are you seeing heightened conflict and productivity issues in your team? Whether it’s a result of COVID or another underlying issue, I’m here to help you find working solutions to better your employee’s well-being and organizational health. Schedule a time to meet with me now.
About the author
Bonnie believes magic happens when people have the courage to talk about what’s really going on in the workplace.
Drawing from decades of experience as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create healthy work cultures that drive results.
Bonnie is an accredited leadership coach and professional speaker who’s known for helping leaders bring teams together so they get more done. The is the author of How Did My Family Get In My Office?!