Supporting employees with PTSD in the workplace

- June 2024

On National PTSD Awareness Day, Parbery Manager Alissa Addicks shares her personal journey of managing CPTSD, including the benefits of a workplace that supports staff with PTSD.

Trigger warning: The following article discusses PTSD. Please look after yourself if this content may be traumatising for you and consider not reading or seeking support. 

My breath quickens, my hands clench and I freeze in place. The world around me fades and a memory takes over like I’ve been picked up and placed inside the scene of my own movie. I feel what I felt, I smell what I smelt, I see what I saw. I am completely transported back to the memory. This is what a PTSD flashback feels like for me. 

I have been frozen at the front door of my home, unable to physically open the door to leave for work. I’ve had days where I’ve not been able to get out of bed and days where trauma memories are triggered by sights, sounds or smells. 

I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that causes you to feel intense fear, helplessness or horror after a traumatic event. CPTSD expands on this and occurs after prolonged and repeated trauma. Without assistance, both can be debilitating. 

I am fortunate to have an incredible psychologist who I have regular and Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) sessions with. EMDR is a type of trauma therapy that always leaves me in complete awe of what the human mind can do. If you’re keen to know more, check out this short video. My psychologist has given me some great tools and techniques to help me get through the tough days and continue to function. I can’t put into words how invaluable having these tools and techniques are to my mental health. 

My employer, Parbery, were also incredible in supporting me before I commenced trauma therapy. I discussed with my manager what I was about to start EMDR and how this may affect my work. My manager’s immediate response was ‘Your health is first.’ Before any further discussion, my decision to include my workplace was already proving to be the right one, just from this one statement.  

But it wasn’t just a blanket statement, it was followed up with a discussion on how Parbery can support me. This included the ability to be flexible in my working location when needed, open communication if I feel overwhelmed and knowing that if things get dire, I can reach out for assistance to make sure client commitments are met while I still get the space I need. Access to Parbery’s Employee Assistance Program, Sonder, and two additional mental health days, annually, have also helped. All these combined help me successfully deliver outcomes for my clients with the professional service they need.  

 The biggest factor that has assisted me to seek the help I’ve needed was knowing that I wasn’t going to be judged for my mental illness but supported by my workplace. This knowledge was, and continues to be, invaluable. 

The crucial role of workplaces in mental wellbeing

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing, in 2020, it was estimated that 75% of Australians have experienced a traumatic event in their lifetimes. That’s a large number! 

With Australians spending a third of their life at work, workplaces need to understand the importance of the mental wellbeing. This can start with understanding mental ill health and offering an environment where staff can raise issues and seek support. 

My experiences of being afraid to speak up around my CPTSD revolved around being judged for taking needed leave and judged for not being mentally healthy. This created a cycle of anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. 

I needed to feel comfortable and safe to speak out about my CPTSD and what support I needed. This took many years before I got there. A good relationship and understanding of mental illness from my manager helped me feel safe to tell them about my circumstances. It’s not about managers being counsellors but being able to help professionally when mental health is impacting work. 

How does an organisation learn how to best support staff with mental illness or PTSD? This is where organisations such as Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) comes in. MIEACT exist to help organisations, schools and the community to increase their knowledge on mental illness. They help provide tools for managing stress and best practices for communicating about mental illness. Parbery is proud to be a corporate sponsor for MIEACT. 

So, on this PTSD Awareness Day, increase your awareness and view the programs offered by MIEACT and how they may be able to assist your team and organisation reduce the stigma associated with mental illness to better support your staff and our community. 

Need support? 

If you are struggling with mental ill health and looking for someone to talk to, you can contact one of the below organisations or reach out to your GP who can assist with a mental health assessment and plan. 

Lifeline – 13 11 14 

Beyond Blue 

By Alissa Addicks, Manager