PTSD is not a new illness in humans, but it has only become a diagnosable illness in modern times. This sample psychology research paper explores the topic of veterans and PTSD in the workplace and focuses on the effects of PTSD on veterans attempting to return to a normal life in the United States.
Veterans diagnosed with PTSD entering the workforce
More veterans from the United States’ recent invasion of Iraq and war in Afghanistan are coming home, and these soldiers must learn how to return to their traditional everyday lives in civilian America. It is a transition that can often be made more difficult by the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that is classified as an anxiety disorder.
With at least one-fifth of all veterans of these two wars reporting symptoms of PTSD, it is imperative to examine the effects the disorder may have on soldiers as they begin a new life outside foreign combat zones. Veterans and employers alike should be aware of how employees are affected by PTSD so solutions can be implemented, giving the company and the veteran a chance to create an effective work environment for all involved.
Veteran PTSD a widespread disease
To fully understand why PTSD can be devastating for veterans as they return to a “normal” life, it is first imperative to take a closer look at how widespread the disorder is among those who have served the nation. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder tends to develop after a person has been involved in a situation with the very real threat of physical harm. It affects about four percent of the country during times of peace (Tanielian & Jaycox, n.d.) and can affect someone for a variety of reasons, including home invasions, car crashes, or even natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes.
The effects of PTSD on veterans are studied more frequently as the country’s veterans return home. About 2.3 million Americans were deployed overseas as part of the two recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a study by the RAND Corporation, at least 20 percent of those service members reported suffering from depression, PTSD or both (Tanielian & Jaycox, n.d.).
Some estimate those numbers are higher. Another related problem that stems from service is traumatic brain injury, which affects an estimated 19 percent of veterans, with about seven percent experiencing both traumatic brain injury and PTSD. A study by the Congressional Research Service in 2010 discovered 67 percent of PTSD cases are diagnosed in the Army, compared with 13 percent in the Marines, 11 percent in the Navy, and nine percent in the Air Force (Fischer, 2013).
Transitioning back to life
With only about half of veterans suffering from PTSD seeking treatment (Tanielian & Jaycox, n.d.), transitioning back to everyday life can be difficult for returning soldiers in a variety of ways, including the workforce. There is a multitude of conditions that can arise from PTSD that make traditional employment more difficult for a veteran suffering from PTSD. Researchers name some of the issues as:
- Memory loss
- Lack of concentration
- Panic attacks
- Emotional extremes
- Inability to work well with others
- Sensitivity to sounds and lights
All of these present challenges for employers, but can be managed as veterans look to adjust to a more traditional civilian life and work on managing their PTSD symptoms with treatment.
Memory loss in PTSD patients
Memory loss is one of the main effects associated with PTSD. Perhaps one of the key problems with this as it relates to traditional employment is that PTSD does not only impact long-term memory but can have an effect on a patient’s day-to-day life. Researchers have found that memory loss’:
“effects on daily functioning and treatment are of primary concern…and reduce the resources available to PTSD patients when coping with life’s demands” (Samuelson, 2011, p. 351).
This can hinder veterans looking for civilians employment from the moment they are hired throughout the duration of their employment. Veterans suffering from PTSD may struggle with training, as remembering what they have just learned may prove difficult, and may also have trouble in meetings, remembering tasks and assignments, and how to use equipment they are unfamiliar with.
There are suggestions for employers on how to make such complications easier on the workers, including budgeting for more training, writing minutes from or tape recording meetings, posting written directions for complicated equipment and providing the employee with a task list that can be checked off.
Lack of concentration caused by PTSD
Much like memory loss, a lack of concentration can be extremely challenging for both an employer and the worker. A study out of Yale University found people who suffer from PTSD tend to forget instructions even after hearing them multiple times, and typically are forgetful about where they have placed their possessions (Bremner, 2000).
This can interfere with workplace tasks, especially in busy offices with potential distractions. To help combat the effects of lack of concentration for veterans with PTSD, America’s Heroes at Work, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, suggests employers should aim to reduce as many possible distractions near the employee, by allowing sound machines or music, changing the lighting, or creating a private workspace to keep the individual on task.
Other symptoms of PTSD
While memory loss and lack of concentration are relatively similar in terms of a veteran’s post-military life, there are several other symptoms that may be more difficult to help manage as an employer. Patients tend to suffer from stress as a result of PTSD, which can include flashbacks to the traumatic event or events that triggered the disorder. Researchers argue that six major factors can help veterans overcome, or at the very least manage, stress associated with the effects of PTSD:
- Practicing altruism
- Having a positive outlook
- Maintaining an active coping lifestyle
- Getting exercise
- Seeking support from friends and family
- Being flexible in responses to negative situations
PTSD-induced stress in veterans
Veterans suffering from PTSD-induced stress may struggle as unforeseen daily problems arise on the job and could have a difficult time as new responsibilities are added. Stress could also play a role in absenteeism (Hoge, Terhakopian, Castro, Messer & Engel, 2007) as veterans with PTSD are not immune to experiencing triggers with their symptoms outside of their work environment that could have a secondary impact on work.
Stress can also contribute to another common symptom of PTSD: recurring panic attacks. An employee may worry that these episodes will reflect negatively on them in the workplace; therefore, an employer would be best served by having a plan in place for handling this situation should it arise to help with the comfort of the veteran and other coworkers.
PTSD’s impact on working relationships
Additionally, a respectful and solid relationship between an employee and a supervisor is often critical for a productive workplace, which can sometimes be affected by a veteran suffering from PTSD. Not only is the veteran likely not used to the traditional structure of a work environment as compared to the ranks of the military, but other symptoms of PTSD can trigger a negative reaction in a potentially frustrated employee.
For example, an employee suffering from PTSD-induced memory loss who cannot perform a basic task that was explained to him or her earlier in the day may become overwhelmed or upset, and could lash out at or blame the supervisor, or having a generally negative reaction that could interfere with workplace morale and working relationships. Bosses are encouraged to make the transition easier on the worker by providing as much information in writing to serve as a reference as possible and give positive reinforcement to help motivate the employee.
Similarly, conflicts can arise between coworkers and veterans that may not occur between civilian employees. It is critical to understand what is causing the tension: it is coming from stress, memory loss, lack of concentration or another possible symptom of PTSD? Coworkers should all receive some form of training on disability awareness to help them make the best decisions in a potentially uncomfortable situation. Employers can also help diffuse tension before it begins by accommodating the veteran’s needs as best as possible, whether that be with a private workspace, allowing for music to be played during the day, or initiating techniques for managing stress.
Hypersensitivity among veterans with PTSD
Finally, another key workplace concern for veterans with PTSD is hypersensitivity. This is defined as being anxious around large crowds and unknown areas, startling easily, and being sensitive to lights and sound. These symptoms can trigger physical reactions in soldiers, from headaches and migraines to more severe responses like panic attacks.
In the workplace, this can present problems for a veteran because there is a certain lack of control over things like lighting and noises. An employer can provide alternative lighting for a worker who may be sensitive to bright office lights and can also help with private accommodations when possible. Coworkers should be sensitive to a veteran who may be prone to being startled when interrupted.
Transitioning from life in a war zone to life in the civilian United States is likely difficult for all of the more-than two million men and women who have served overseas, but it can be made increasingly hard when adding PTSD symptoms to the mix. With at least 20 percent of veterans reporting symptoms, it is paramount for employers to be aware of veteran’s rights and help manage a soldier’s medical concerns in the workplace. Veterans with this disorder will add unique issues to a work environment likely not seen as frequently in civilian employees.
Worries about transitioning well into an every-day job may even have the effect of enhancing some PTSD symptoms for certain veterans, depending on how they are affected by the disorder. Therefore, both veterans and employers should be responsible for having candid discussions regarding the patient’s experiences with the disorder, and how the work environment is likely to impact symptoms, in order to give both the company and the veteran the best chance to succeed as the soldier embarks on a new life as a civilian in the United States.
Interested in other human resource topics? Read about absenteeism in the workplace and how it can affect veterans.
Babbel, S. (2012, September 12). Somatic Psychology. Psychology Today. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201208/students-ptsd
Bremner, J. D. (2000). The invisible epidemic: Post-traumatic stress disorder, memory, and the brain. Retrieved on December 2, 2013.
Fischer, H. (2013). U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf
Haglund, M., Cooper, N., Southwick, S., & Charney, D. (2007). 6 keys to resilience for PTSD and everyday stress. Current Psychiatry, 6(4), 23-30.
Hoge, C., Terhakopian, A., Castro, C., Messer, S., & Engel, C. (2007). Association of posttraumatic stress disorder with somatic symptoms, health care visits, and absenteeism among Iraq war veterans. Am J Psychiatry, 164(1), 150-153.
Samuelson, K. W. (2011). Post-traumatic stress disorder and declarative memory functioning: a review. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 13(3), 346-351.
Tanielian, T., & Jaycox, L.H. (n.d.). Invisible Wounds of War. RAND Corporation. Retrieved December 2, 3013, from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG720.pdf.