How to help employees through traumatic events

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Traumatic events, if left unacknowledged or untreated, have the ability to alter our health and mental wellbeing permanently.

Trauma is how the mind responds to mental injury, caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event and requires processing to avoid causing long term mental health problems in an individual.

Examples of traumatic events include:

  • Domestic or family violence and dating violence
  • Community violence (shooting, mugging, burglary, assault, bullying)
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood, fire or earthquake
  • A serious car accident
  • Sudden unexpected death of someone close (suicide, accident)
  • Serious injury (burns, dog attack)
  • Major surgery or life-threatening illness (childhood cancer)
  • War or political violence (civil war, terrorism, refugee)

Because most people try to keep talking about traumatic experiences or events to a minimum, we tend to think they are few and far between, but, (WHO) World Mental Health surveys have shown that 70.4% of people surveyed across 24 countries have experienced at least one traumatic event throughout their lifetime.

Most people spend most of their adult lives working, so the likelihood that someone you employ will experience trauma in their personal lives at some point is almost inevitable.

Workplace trauma is another possibility, especially if employees are at risk of having accidents during the course of their working day.

Taking care of employees’ mental health at work is a priority for most people who want to see their organisation and their employees flourish. So being ready to assist them, whether it is through a trauma therapy or trauma counselling service, or simply finding out what they need to get through this experience can make an incredible difference to the quality of their life in the future.

It is not yet known what causes PTSD but treatment for it involves the proper processing of memories. Which is why trauma therapy, which allows an individual to process their experience, is highly advised for those who want to avoid it.

How to recognise trauma

From a co-worker, a friend, employer or family member’s perspective, trauma leaves behind visible marks on the behaviour of the afflicted person. Sleep disturbance, withdrawal, flashbacks, hyper vigilance, feeling of intense helplessness and fear are some of the symptoms experienced by a victim of trauma. Avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms are some of the most tell-tale signs of someone undergoing a crisis.

What you can do to help someone experiencing trauma

As an employer, we advise that you learn everything you can about trauma in order to be prepared.

When you recognise signs of trauma in an employee, reach out to the them and let them know that they have your full support.

If this isn’t possible because you have a large body of staff, you may want to consider appointing an outside service to deliver a Critical Incident Stress Management programme.  A service such as this can be delivered on-site or over the phone and will involve talking to a trained professional about the event, to help them process it.

Simply talking through the cause and effects of the trauma can be beneficial, and the after-care services provided by these programmes, will make sure the critical incident stress management programme is successful.