WORKPLACE PTSD…THE NIGERIAN REALITY

What is PTSD? How does it really impact on us in Nigeria? Is it real as in real in the Nigerian sense of things?

While I am not a psychiatrist nor a medical person…. I am just a curious person musing around and wondering how real this is based on my observation.

PTSD stands for “post-traumatic stress disorder”. And if you are conversant with CNN and watch a lot of movies especially war movies and the likes…we would be familiar with the term and can be forgiven if you think it applies only to does at the war front or in similar circumstances. Let’s break it down…

“PTSD is commonly defined as a psychiatric disorder that develops after witnessing or experiencing extremely traumatic events, such as combat; crime; an accident; a natural disaster; or a physical, emotional, or sexual assault,” (https://lattice.com/library/what-is-workplace-ptsd-and-how-can-you-support-your-employees-who-suffer-from-it)  Mary C. Vance et al defined it thus, “Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a potentially debilitating condition characterized by intrusive memories, avoidance, negative alterations in mood and cognition, and hyperarousal after exposure to a traumatic stressor. (Exposure to Workplace Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Intern Physicians, JAMA Network Open. 2021;4(6):e2112837. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.12837).

I am sure you are wondering, all these scientific and psychological definitions …how does it really affect the workplace?

Have you ever woken up in the morning and developed trepidation going to work? Or have you gotten to your workplace and you felt demoralized just before you entered your office? Do you dread receiving any message from your line manager or a colleague because you are uncertain of the content? Or you feel oppressed when a particular person is in the office and liberated when he or she is out of the office? If your answer is yes to any of the questions above… my friend, you are experiencing PTSD…just look at the similarities in the symptoms defined.

Let’s go a lil’ scientific shall we… According to Joyce Mayer, “workplace PTSD is characterised by the different emotional, cognitive, and physical challenges people experience when they have difficulty coping with negative, abusive, or traumatic aspects of their jobs.” (The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, July 27 2021). Jennifer Ernst Beaudry further shared on this as, “situations such as a supervisor dressing down subordinates in front of colleagues; or being required to be responsive and available to requests at any time of day, including days off; or being asked to perform tasks they aren’t trained for…” 

Triggers of workplace PTSD

What’s most critical to know according to experts is that, there’s no one set of triggers for PTSD. It could be triggered by any events and circumstances that is experienced around and deemed unsafe and unhealthy to the individual psychologically. But for the purposes of this article, let’s itemise a few…remember…I am just a writer who is curious about this and wants to help someone in this position;

  1. Negative vibes/perceptions in the workplace: If experiencing negative vibes from colleagues, line managers, management…or yourself as well.
  2. Office Culture: An unstructured office culture that does not promote healthy work ethics or give a defined career path may trigger PTSD in the employee. Work overload, having to work at odd hours round the clock, broken promises from management, lack of privacy and “me time”, unrealistic work expectation, overbearing line manager, undefinable job description or anything that triggers psychological imbalance may trigger PTSD in an employee.
  3. Work Ethics: Feeling of inadequacy can trigger PTSD…if you have a shoddy work ethic, you will be out of place with colleagues or line managers that have a strong work ethic. And if an affected employee does not brace up to the challenges and buckle up, he or she may be reminded of past situations and how it ended up unfavourably and develop PTSD in the process. And it could be that an individual does have good work ethic but feels inadequate around an informed colleague, subordinate, or line manager…it could trigger or lead to aggressive or overbearing behaviour that can trigger PTSD in others.

Who it Affects?
PTSD affects everyone especially does predisposed to mental risks and challenges. According to Marter, “If you have a history of dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, [or] if you are a survivor of abuse or neglect, you are more likely to develop workplace PTSD”. And if we look at our situation in Nigeria and in Lagos, we are all prime candidates of PTSD if we don’t manage it well. The Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai once joked that Lagosians live in hell with the perpetual chaotic traffic situation, and he doesn’t know how they survive daily…

What does Workplace PTSD look like?

PTSD symptoms can manifest as physical symptoms and as mental health issues that show themselves at home and at work.

According to Jennifer Ernst Beaudry, “Workplace PTSD can manifest as chronic anxiety, hyper-reactivity, exhaustion, depression, emotional numbing, self-isolation, sleep difficulties, lack of focus, irritability, negativity, avoidance of work, intrusive thoughts, self-blame, and blaming of others”. This also was echoed by Genex to include “…memory problems, lack of concentration, poor relationships with coworkers, trouble staying awake, fear, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional outbursts while at work, flashbacks, and absenteeism” (How PTSD is Affecting Return to Work, Aug 22, 2019 culled from https://www.genexservices.com/insights/workers-comp/blog/how-ptsd-affecting-return-work

These often results in changes for the employee in terms of change in performance, persistent physical health complaints, social withdrawal, absenteeism, erratic behaviors, increased conflict in the workplace, and an increase in substance use and abuse in some instances. I am sure we see them all around us.

How can this be dealt with and resolved.

The key step is in acknowledging that the issue is real and not handled with levity according to experts. What it means is that the HR Dept and the organisation needs to be proactive in, managing, handling, and creating sensitisation to everyone on it. According to experts, “Workplace PTSD can negatively impact attendance, job performance, productivity, efficiency, and efficacy,” if any staff is consistently dropping the ball…then you want to check if it is a case of PTSD and you need to be informed…well informed and knowledgeable to deal with it. 

The following can be done but not limited to it alone.

  1. Create a supportive and collaborative workplace culture that minimises burnouts and imbibes global best practice for employee wellbeing and mental wellness.
  2. Create anonymous feedback channels for employees to report situations and circumstances that triggers PTSD in the organisation.
  3. Create an effective communication system that will aid conflict resolution and allow for transparency in operations and relationships within the organisation.
  4. Educate employees about mental wellness and the need to deal with mental health issues without stigmatising them. Having headache is not a stigma likewise should having PTSD…it can be dealt with in an atmosphere of understanding, love, and camaraderie.
  5. Find a de-trigger activity or event. I found jazz music to be a good de-trigger for me at workplace. Once I sense the trigger coming on, I put on jazz music, and it calms me down and it really helped me at work and in my relationship with co-workers. Not there yet as it is a journey, but better off. (More on that story in the future :)) Taking short breaks and walks is also a good de-trigger of PTSD and mental stress in the short term and can build into the long term.

In the Nigerian context of things, this may seem far-fetched, and unrealistic, but it’s the sad truth that needs to be confronted heads on. Why do we have so much rage on our roads, social media, offices, and homes? This is where is all boils down to…PTSD…we are carriers and embodiment of it. And to have a functioning workforce, a viable future, and a sustainable economy, it boils down to how we treat this issue…no short cut approach.

It is my honest belief that, the different societal menace we currently experience as a nation, if well investigated and documented, can be traced to mental health issues with particular reference to PTSD. The future of our country and our children hangs on how we treat this issue individually, corporately, as a society and nationally. You cannot be aiming to solve Nigeria’s problem or even your State or Constituency when you are packed with unresolved rage that manifests in a ugly manner when you step into power. Little wonder we have tin gods in position of authority who abuse power, enjoying the trappings of power and don’t want to let go…until a slap jolts them to reality that power is transient.

Who we are collectively, reflects who we are, individually and a reflection of our mental state per time.

I will end with these two quotes I find fascinating and that captures my thoughts:

“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.”

Noam Shpancer, PhD

“If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and our shortcomings instead of pretending they don’t exist, then maybe we’ll leave the world a better place than we found it.”

Russell Wilson

Do let me know your thoughts on this…how you have overcome your challenges and how you are helping others.

Selah

 

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