Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Workplace

You don’t have to be in the military to claim that you developed post-traumatic stress disorder because of events in the workplace. And you don’t have to witness a workplace shooting to develop PTSD. Consider what firefighters, police, ambulance crews, and medical personnel witness. Even traumatic events in an otherwise “normal” workplace could cause work-related PTSD

PTSD is a relatively new label for an old condition that hasn’t been officially recognized for very long. That’s why it is crucial that California has established guidelines for compensating people with PTSD that stems from workplace events.

To find out more about compensation for PTSD related to work, talk to the experienced workplace injury legal team at Koszdin Law Office. We have more than a decade of experience with helping injured and disabled workers pursue the benefits they are entitled to recover. Call or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your legal rights and best legal options.

Occupations at Risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The journal Occupational Medicine published study results from an examination of at-risk occupations. The article cites obvious reasons for PTSD risk along with some surprising findings.

According to the study, the occupations that pose the greatest risk of PTSD include:

  • Police: Law enforcement officials face the risk of death and violence every day, both against themselves and the people they serve. The rate of PTSD among officers studied was found to be less than 10 percent despite direct and frequent exposure to violence. No explanation is given, but the article does cite the “organizational and psychosocial work environment of police officers.”
  • Firefighters: The study notes that many firefighters are paramedics, which adds to an already high level of stress. It cites a PTSD rate reaching 20 percent.
  • Ambulance personnel: The danger and exposure to trauma in this profession push the PTSD rate in some studies close to 20 percent.
  • Health-care professionals: The study found that health care workers, especially nurses in intensive-care units and in mental health care, “have been shown to have high rates of PTSD symptoms.”
  • Journalists: The article notes that being a war correspondent is a risky business. The article cites a PTSD rate of close to 30 percent among war correspondents. Factors cited include a failure to seek treatment, lack of training/preparation for dealing with experiences in a war zone, and lack of peer support in “a culture of silence.”
  • Sailors: The article doesn’t address the military overall, but it does cite war sailor syndrome. The occupational psychiatric disorder “was first described in the mid 1970s. One-third of Norwegian sailors who survived World War II became disabled and received disability pension. … Today, sailors may be subjected to critical incidents such as hijacking and hostage-taking thus facing an increased risk of PTSD.”

PTSD unofficially has been recognized for centuries. What once was called, among other things, combat fatigue, shell shock, and post-Vietnam syndrome was not officially recognized until 1980. That was when the American Psychiatric Association added post-traumatic stress disorder to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Along with the name, treating and diagnosing the condition has evolved.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

California’s push for clarity on PTSD yielded guidelines on symptoms for the diagnostic process. They are listed in the state’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual under anxiety disorders.

Circumstances necessary for a PTSD diagnosis are:

  • Seeing or being part of an event featuring the threat or occurrence of death or serious injury to oneself or others.
  • Responding to the event with intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

The manual goes on to describe three categories of symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance, and arousal. It notes that the “individual goes on to re-experience (sic) the event through such things as intrusive recollections and disturbing dreams. Prominent symptoms include avoidance and numbing. Increased arousal is manifest through disturbance of sleep, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle responses and other symptoms.”

The signals are “distress or impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.”

The manual distinguishes between acute stress disorder (ASD) and PTSD. With ASD, the “disturbance” lasts from two days to four weeks. Longevity of bouts with symptoms is critical:

  • With PTSD, the symptoms can persist for more than a month.
  • If the symptoms persist for up to three months, the PTSD is deemed acute. If the duration of symptoms is longer than three months, the PTSD is considered chronic.
  • Delayed onset PTSD is when it takes six months or more for symptoms to surface.

When there is clarity in the diagnostic process, which appears to be the goal of California’s guidelines, getting treatment that is covered by workers’ compensation becomes less difficult.

Treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Knowing the symptoms makes it easier to see the invisible wounds of PTSD. Once that bridge is crossed, it’s time to work toward a normal existence. The primary tools used by the professionals are medication and psychotherapy.

  • Medications. The big gun here is antidepressants. The targets are feelings of sadness, worry, anger, and even emotional numbness. Sleep aids also are useful, especially those that curb nightmares.
  • Psychotherapy. Sometimes called “talk therapy,” this is done one-on-one (patient-doctor) or in groups. PTSD talk therapy usually lasts six to 12 weeks. The support of family and friends is critical here.

Other forms of psychotherapy focus on problems at work, with family, or socially. The patient’s needs dictate the approach, which often is a combination of medications and psychotherapy. With a goal of teaching patients to cope with things that trigger PTSD symptoms, therapy seeks to:

  • Educate patients about trauma and its effects.
  • Teach relaxation and anger-control skills.
  • Instill better sleep, diet, and exercise habits.
  • Help people isolate and cope with guilt, shame, and other issues tied to the cause of their PTSD.
  • Show people how to deal with symptoms and what triggers them.

Clearly, PTSD can make dealing with daily occurrences impossible. If someone is struggling to get their life in order, the last thing they need is a legal battle for the financial help.

California Guidelines on Workplace-Related PTSD

California recognized decades ago that a need existed for workers’ compensation claims stemming from psychiatric issues. Under the headline “Medical Unit – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” the California Department of Industrial Relations looks at the evolution of the state’s PTSD guidelines. Here’s a basic outline:

  • The Industrial Medical Council (IMC) and supporting advisory committees were established in 1989 as part of workers’ compensation reform.
  • The Psychiatric Advisory Committee (PAC) followed a legislative mandate to revise the disability evaluation protocols for psychiatric injury, and that became law in 1993.
  • The IMC and PAC chose PTSD as the focus for establishment of treatment guidelines.
  • The Legislature made changes setting a higher threshold for compensation of psychiatric injuries.
    • For injuries occurring after July 17, 1993, the worker must prove the “actual events of employment” were the “predominant cause” (at least 51 percent) of the psychiatric injury.
    • If the psychiatric injury results from a violent act or direct exposure to one, the events of employment must have been a “substantial cause” (at least 35 percent) of the employee’s injury.

The Kenton Koszdin Law Office Can Help

When debt is piling up and you aren’t sure how you will pay for the rising mountain of medical bills, it’s good to know you can get help.

In Southern California, the Kenton Koszdin Law Office has the compassion for workplace PTSD victims and the legal skills you need to overcome hurdles to financial security.

Contact us today for a free, no obligation case evaluation, including a free in-home consultation if necessary.


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