The risk of trauma is a clear and present danger for security staff exposed to the risk of physical assault or witnessing harrowing incidents. The symptoms of trauma can include uncharacteristically poor behaviour and attendance at work – and can result in job loss, family breakdown, addiction and even suicide.
There is a clear responsibility for employers to help security staff who experience these issues to get help. When a major incident occurs at work, such as a recorded assault on a staff member, there is a need to discuss this with the employee and perhaps suggest they take some time off or consult their GP.
But what if they are suffering from a traumatic event that happened in the past, perhaps during a former military career? This can be an issue for the security community given the number of staff with a Forces’ background. Unresolved issues of trauma may surface or be triggered many years later by something that happens at work or at home.
The problem for all responsible employers and line managers is understanding the issues of trauma and being able to recognise the symptoms and then ‘signpost’ effective help. The goal is to take action before the situation deteriorates, both for the staff member and the organisation.
So what can you do to identify and resolve these issues – particularly for any Forces’ Veterans who may have issues arising from service for their country in recent war zones?
Constantly, it seems, we read in the media about the failure of this country to help veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Incidents of suicide are highlighted, resulting from unresolved mental health issues, it is said.
It is important to say firstly that such incidents are in fact very rare; but also that there is hope. People can get better. A counselling programme for treating PTSD is achieving great results in the UK, with nearly eight out of ten armed forces’ veterans approaching PTSD Resolution being treated successfully by the charity. Treatment is free to Veterans, Reservists and their families and is provided locally, through a nationwide network of 200 therapists.
Looking at the general population, mental health disorders account for one in five of all work days lost and cost employers £25 billion according to N.I.C.E. The incidence of such disorders amongst ex-forces personnel is not known – at least statistics are not made available.
Few employers can recognise the symptoms of trauma – far less assist employees constructively and find out if they need help and then arrange appropriate treatment.
This is why PTSD Resolution introduced TATE, Trauma Awareness Training for Employers. The charity set up half-day workshops to help company owners, line managers, human relations people and other staff to understand more about the problem of trauma, however caused.
So what can you do about the problem of trauma, today?
If as a line manager, you have staff who have been exposed to violent scenes, or maybe are going to come across them in current duties, you or they need to be helped, ideally through an agreed process.
Here is an outline guide:-
1. If you or a staff member is experiencing the effects of trauma, you are not going mad and this is not a sign of weakness. It is a normal reaction to extreme events. It can happen to anyone, even robust and apparently stable people. Everyone has a threshold beyond which they can be traumatised.
2. It’s OK to talk about it, but it won’t necessarily help. Treatment is what is needed. The sooner you get on with it, the sooner you’ll be able to return to a normal routine. After all if you broke your leg, you would get it fixed professionally – it is not so different with mental health.
3. Your doctor probably will not be a trauma specialist. In fact you may know a more about post-traumatic symptoms than him or her because of the nature of your work and the people with whom you have contact.
4. The latest medical thinking opposes reliance on medication for post-traumatic symptoms, but many doctors still offer antidepressants for new trauma cases, so you should insist on seeing someone suitably qualified, a therapist. There is a good probability that, with appropriate treatment, you will experience a good recovery.
Security organisations should develop a culture that is responsible, not ‘macho’, in this area – that is informed, aware and supportive. Operational machinery is maintained regularly and repaired when necessary, so it is only rational to adopt at least the same approach with your people.
If you manage staff 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 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 encourage them to get help if necessary, so that everyone can continue to work well together.
When an employee does not seem to be returning to their normal attitude and behaviour after a few weeks, it is as well to open a dialogue about how he or she would like to be helped to recover.
It is helpful to develop a relationship with an organisation like PTSD Resolution, that has experience of post-traumatic reactions, and can deliver brief interventions that return people to normal work and family life.
The cost of a typical course of treatment should be very much less than the expense of supporting an unwell employee down the line – or worse still, coping with the collateral damage if someone does something unfortunate while traumatised in your employment.
So should security teams be screened or routinely treated for trauma following an incident? Probably not. People have a natural process of dealing with and resolving the effects of disturbing incidents, most of the time.
It is possible that working in the security or military sectors now or in the past, you been affected adversely by what you experienced. This is normal, and the effects will have faded in many cases. If they do not do so in a month or so, or if it is getting worse, it is a good idea to get some help.
For further information visit www.PTSDresolution.org
Patrick is a member of ASIS and Communications Director of charity PTSD Resolution. He is a specialist in marketing security and works with product and service suppliers as well as the Police and Home Office.
(PTSD Resolution really does some fantastic work so please take some time to look at their website. The Professional Security Officer Magazine is 100% in support of everything they do. If you can help them, please do so. If you are not in a position to assist, then we would be most grateful if you could just spread the word. Thank You…………… Ed.)