The impact of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a hidden chronic mental health issue in the workplace. A 2016 survey of UK adults found that one in five people between the ages of 18 and 74 said they had experienced at least one form of child abuse, whether emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence, before the age of 16.
For many of those 8.5 million people, the experiences will continue to affect them into adulthood, in the form of trauma. They might experience panic attacks, flashbacks or intense and ongoing emotional upset due to what they experienced earlier in life.
These mental health challenges affect all areas of a trauma survivor’s life, but can be particularly detrimental in the workplace. Poor concentration, problems with trust, and feeling disconnected or socially isolated are all symptoms that trauma survivors report experiencing at work.
Talking to your manager
A good manager should be able to identify signs and symptoms of trauma and create the space for a safe and open dialogue. The right time to disclose is for you to decide, not the employer. The policy of your workplace might encourage people to share their trauma – but as it is a personal choice, only enact the disclosure process when you feel it is appropriate for you to do so.
Consult any mentor or counsellor you might have, or speak to a family member or friend who is aware of your trauma if possible. Write a brief plan on what you wish to cover with your manager prior to the meeting, depending on your situation.
Write down what you’re feeling, and request a one-to-one meeting in a private, safe space. If you feel the space is not appropriate, suggest an alternative or go for a walk. Briefly explain the issues you are facing – it is up to you to decide how much detail or context to disclose. Focus on your work experience and what you need to manage your trauma and be an effective employee.
What kind of support can you get?
Flexible or remote working can be helpful for trauma survivors who may need time or space to deal with panic attacks or flashbacks. If it is not already clear, ask about your company’s flexible working policy. You may also be able to ask to adjust your workload or deadlines, or to access counselling support if needed.
Your employer may be able to provide specialised equipment to help with concentration problems, fatigue or memory problems. If a standing desk, voice-recognition software (to help mitigate memory loss or concentration issues) or other computer equipment would be helpful, ask how you can request it.
Organisations are not legally required to provide specialised equipment as trauma is not covered by the equality act. However, they have a moral responsibility to accommodate individual needs and create a psychologically safe environment.
If you are struggling or feel you could benefit from mental health support, please speak to your GP, and/or try contacting supportive organisations such as The Seasonal Affective Disorders Association, The Samaritans or Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). There is also information on wellbeing and support via the NHS website as well as the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.
- ^ survey of UK adults (www.ons.gov.uk)
- ^ report experiencing (www.ntu.ac.uk)
- ^ This article is part of Quarter Life (theconversation.com)
- ^ Passionate about your job? Here’s why that might not be good for you (theconversation.com)
- ^ How remote working can increase stress and reduce wellbeing (theconversation.com)
- ^ Becoming a new parent is challenging – and fathers need support too (theconversation.com)
- ^ at work (www.cipd.co.uk)
- ^ do not disclose (www.ntu.ac.uk)
- ^ KieferPix/Shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com)
- ^ The Seasonal Affective Disorders Association (www.sada.org.uk)
- ^ The Samaritans (www.samaritans.org)
- ^ Campaign Against Living Miserably (www.thecalmzone.net)
- ^ NHS website (www.nhs.uk)
- ^ National Association for People Abused in Childhood (napac.org.uk)