Dealing with trauma

At least 10,000 fire-fighters, police officers and civilians exposed to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in the US have been found to have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), according to figures compiled by New York City’s three 9/11 health programmes.

Few if any directors and line managers involved in emergency services and contingency planning are trained to recognise and deal with the symptoms of trauma among staff. The condition can cause severe depression and behavioural problems for employees, often over the course of several decades. Left untreated, the result may be extended sick-leave and dismissal - and potentially major legal liability for employers. It should be a matter of good corporate governance to ensure conditions can be recognised and resolved.

The reported trauma symptoms of those at Ground Zero in New York for 9/11 are typical of people witnessing events that involve actual or potential death or injury. In many cases there are initial symptoms that subside over a few days or weeks. It is advisable to let this happen by itself — ’critical incident debriefing’, where everyone involved in an incident is given counselling, is now thought to cause more problems than it solves. However, if the symptoms have not subsided after a month, or have got worse, it is time to do something about it. Equally, the effects can be delayed for years, and maybe triggered by some new experience.

Managers should develop a company culture that is responsible not ’macho’, and that there is a clear path to help and treatment:

• If you manage people who may experience trauma, keep an eye on their behaviour. If someone is involved in an incident and seems to have changed, it may be a sign that they will need help. Let them know that you are aware of what they have been through, that the organisation’s policy is to be open about stress reactions and to get help if necessary so that everyone can continue to work well.

• If the employee does not seem to be returning to their normal attitudes, demeanour and behaviour after a few weeks, open a dialogue about how they would like to be helped to recover.

Piers Bishop is director of training, PTSD Resolution. For further information contact PTSD Resolution on www.ptsdresolution.org  or 0845 021 7873 or email sb@ptsdresolution.org

* PTSD Resolution is a UK national trauma treatment agency to provide training in trauma awareness for employers in the public and private sectors. One-day seminars help managers to identify and assist staff suffering from trauma. The programme is based on the therapeutic techniques used by Resolution’s network of 200 therapists, which is successful in 83% of cases.

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