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Post-traumatic stress disorder in the workplace

female paramedic/firefighter

Photo: Jani Bryson/iStockphoto

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness. It can occur when a person experiences something frightening, stressful or overwhelming.

“Often, the event is unexpected, and the person feels powerless to stop or change the event,” the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety states.

In the workplace, an employee may develop PTSD after sustaining or witnessing a serious injury, such as an amputation or crushing incident, or the death of a co-worker.

“Some groups at a higher risk for developing PTSD are military personnel, paramedics, firefighters, police, dispatch receivers, corrections officers, doctors, nurses and other emergency personnel,” CCOHS notes, adding that employees at workplaces that are vulnerable to robberies or where the risk of a serious injury is high also are at risk.


Although some workers may experience PTSD symptoms quickly – within a month or two – others may not notice issues for years. Signs of PTSD include flashbacks, severe anxiety, nightmares and a persistent feeling of fear.

According to CCOHS, other common symptoms include feeling on edge, angry or numb; feeling that something terrible will happen soon; being dissatisfied at work; having trouble concentrating; and using drugs or alcohol to cope.


PTSD needs to be taken seriously, and education can go a long way. CCOHS recommends that workplaces “educate and train both management and employees in areas such as anti-stigma and general awareness, resiliency, signs and symptoms, how to seek support, and how to support others who may be suffering.”

Other ways supervisors can help:

  • Understand that being angry or withdrawn are signs of PTSD.
  • Encourage the person to speak to someone trustworthy for help.
  • Ask how you can support the worker – even if he or she doesn’t want to talk about it.
  • Provide access to support services – as well as time away to attend services – and be understanding to workers returning to work after an incident.

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