Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may develop after an individual experiences or witnesses a life-threatening event. PTSD can be debilitating and require ongoing treatment. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 10 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from PTSD.
Certain types of workers, including first responders, police officers, and firefighters, develop PTSD at a rate that is two to three times higher than the rest of the population. Recognizing this, more states are allowing first responders and employees in similar occupations to receive workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD and other mental health conditions caused or exacerbated in the workplace.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), it is normal to have trouble sleeping or feel on-edge after a traumatic event. However, chronic PTSD may develop if symptoms last for more than a few months. Symptoms vary widely but are generally categorized into the following groups:
- Re-experiencing the event. This may include but is not limited to flashbacks and nightmares.
- Examples include avoiding situations that trigger memories of the event, such as crowds or driving, or staying busy to avoid thinking about the past.
- Feeling jumpy, irritable, angry, or not being able to sleep or concentrate are signs of hyperarousal.
- Negative changes in beliefs and feelings. This can be expressed in many ways, such as believing that the entire world is dangerous, and no one can be trusted.
If these symptoms persist and disrupt daily life, it is time to seek professional help. Left untreated, PTSD can manifest into physical problems, including headaches, high blood pressure, ulcers, gastrointestinal upset, and heart conditions. Another complication is substance abuse. According to Desert Hope Treatment Centers, about half of the individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse suffer from PTSD. Many who have PTSD become depressed and potentially suicidal. PTSD is a serious disease that warrants prompt medical attention.
How is PTSD Treated?
There are a variety of options for treating PTSD, and they fall into the following categories:
- Trauma-focused psychotherapy
- Peer group support
Often, individuals who suffer from PTSD will undergo a combination of treatment for months or years. Symptoms may disappear or linger but become more manageable over time. There are several different trauma-focused psychotherapy approaches in use today, including:
- Cognitive processing therapy: This helps individuals understand how the trauma changed the way they think and feel.
- Prolonged exposure: This involves talking about the traumatic event repeatedly until it is no longer upsetting.
- Eye movement desensitizing and reprocessing: This is a technique in which individuals focus on hand movements and/or sounds while talking about the trauma.
All of these approaches require the guidance of trained, licensed therapists.
According to the VA, medications can be effective in treating PTSD as well, and are often used in combination with therapy. Certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors that are used to treat depression may help individuals with PTSD. Peer support groups also help motivate individuals to continue with therapy.
Which Workers are at Risk for Developing PTSD?
PTSD can develop anytime someone is injured, involved in a crime, or lives through a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or hurricane. Workers who suffer horrific injuries on the job are much more likely to develop depression and/or PTSD, according to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fellow workers who witness the catastrophic injury or death of another worker are also at risk for developing PTSD. This can happen in any occupation, including construction, manufacturing, roofing, and truck driving. However, studies indicate that certain workers are at a much higher risk for developing PTSD, which involve:
- A study published by the NIH revealed that 6.5 to 30 percent of firefighters may develop PTSD at some point in their careers.
- Police officers. Their job involves a constant anticipation of risk, as well as witnessing the suffering of traumatized crime victims.
- They are called upon to tend to victims of car accidents, shootings, and other disasters on a routine basis that most people rarely see first-hand.
- Historically, nurses have not been considered at high risk for developing PTSD. However, according to WebMD, that has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nurses have repeatedly witnessed the death of COVID-19 patients while feeling intense stress and pressure of working long hours and not having adequate equipment and supplies.
Any workplace environment that produces extremely high levels of stress and exposure to tragic events can precipitate PTSD.
What Should I Do if I Have Work-Related PTSD?
If an individual was involved in or witnessed a catastrophic incident during their career, and are now experiencing symptoms of PTSD, they should seek help. Early intervention is the key to recovery. Thinking it will go away on its own may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression. As soon as one recognizes they may have work-related PTSD, they should take the following steps:
- Seek medical attention. Describe any symptoms to a doctor and note that the condition may be work-related. Keep records of all medical bills, and follow all treatments prescribed by a doctor. Describe in detail any physical injuries suffered, as well as the traumatic incidents that the individual is reliving and attempting to process.
- Report the medical condition to the employer. Include the dates and locations of the traumatic incidents, as well as detailed descriptions of what occurred.
- Contact a workers’ compensation lawyer. Proving PTSD may be difficult; however, the debilitating effects of this condition are very real. Employers may attempt to deny a claim and attribute the PTSD to something other than the worker’s job. A skilled workers’ compensation lawyer will review each case and fight for the worker’s rights.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits for PTSD
Today, workers may receive benefits after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic incident on the job if that event is judged to be abnormal. Even still, the burden of proof is on the worker to demonstrate the abnormality of the traumatic event experienced.
Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP Advocate for Those Suffering from Work-Related PTSD
Work-related PTSD is very real. At the same time, it may be difficult to prove that the mental trauma you are suffering is directly related to events in the workplace. The experienced Cherry Hill workers’ compensation lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP help workers collect the evidence they need to demonstrate that their condition is work-related. For a free consultation, fill out our online contact form or call us at 856-761-3773. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Camden, Cinnaminson, Delran, Maple Shade, and Pennsauken.