A number of common occupations involve exposure to violent, disturbing or traumatic events. A Chicago workers compensation attorney knows that such experiences can sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Many people are familiar with PTSD among military personnel, but they may not be aware that medical professionals, law enforcement officers, corrections officers and other civilian employees can also suffer from its effects.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD is a complex medical condition that is difficult to live with and can be challenging to treat. It is triggered by exposure to a violent or frightening experience in which a person is physically hurt or threatened with serious harm. Some common triggers include military combat, rape, sexual assault, violent physical attacks or threats with a deadly weapon. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 5.2 million American adults currently suffer from PTSD.
What are the most common symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD can vary widely, but the following are the most common:
- Recurring flashbacks to the traumatic event in the form of dreams or intrusive memories
- Loss of interest in family, friends, surroundings or everyday activities
- Avoiding people, situations, activities or topics of conversation that may recall the trauma
- Excessive vigilance and sensitivity to stimuli
- Severe outbursts of rage
These symptoms do not always appear immediately after the trauma takes place. In many cases, PTSD can take weeks, months or even years to develop. People may seem to recover well after a difficult experience and then suffer from these symptoms later on.
PTSD in the corrections system
Corrections officers are at considerable risk for PTSD. A Chicago workers’ compensation attorney can recall many cases in which prison employees are traumatized, threatened, physically attacked, sexually assaulted or made to witness terrifying events. Working in the violent environment of a correctional institution can trigger post-traumatic reactions even among well-trained professionals. Many corrections officers are unable to return to their former line of work after a major trauma on the job. This can cause a high rate of employee turnover that is damaging to correctional institutions.
PTSD among law enforcement officers
Police officers are particularly prone to PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, active law enforcement work in a high-stress urban environment can be as psychologically damaging as combat. Many officers are shot on the job or assaulted in other life-threatening ways. Witnessing the violent death of colleagues can also trigger symptoms of PTSD. The law enforcement profession suffers from a tragically high rate of suicide, with 126 self-inflicted deaths during 2012, according to statistics compiled by the National Study of Police Suicides.
Effects of trauma among medical professional
Medical professionals may be exposed to traumatic situations in the line of duty. Doctors and EMTs are often the first people to appear at the site of a tragedy such as a terrorist bombing, a massive fire, a building collapse, a fatal transport accident or a large-scale workplace accident. In many cases, medical workers themselves are at severe bodily risk when they come to the scene of a catastrophe. Witnessing the aftermath of such events and risking one’s own life to help the victims can lead to symptoms of PTSD after the disaster.
Treatment for PTSD
PTSD is not a simple disorder to treat. In many cases, patients need long-term psychological counseling and therapy. Medication may also be helpful to alleviate symptoms. Some people with PTSD are unable to continue their former line of work and must take on new duties or choose a completely different career. According to The New York Times, many police officers and correctional officers are forced to retire because PTSD symptoms are triggered by ongoing exposure to trauma on the job. The appearance of symptoms may cause additional problems for people who have built up long-term seniority in their professions. It can be difficult to sacrifice a lifelong career after a major accident or a series of traumas.
Is PTSD eligible for workers’ compensation in Illinois?
When PTSD is linked to trauma experienced on the job, it is fully eligible for workers’ compensation in Illinois. This disorder is just as real and life threatening as a head injury or a lung disease. When an employee is forced to retire, shift to lighter duty or seek medical care because of a medical condition contracted at work, Illinois workers’ compensation can provide reimbursement for lost wages. Employers are also required to cover all medical expenses connected with job-related traumas.
How can employees safeguard their rights to compensation?
Employees with PTSD can safeguard their rights by acting carefully and seeking medical advice. When a worker suffers a broken leg on the job, the workers’ compensation case is normally very straightforward. Psychological trauma can be more difficult to identify and prove. After a life-threatening or traumatic experience at work, employees should take the time to consult a doctor or psychologist. By documenting their symptoms in this way, they can increase their chances of a successful workers’ compensation claim. The Workers’ Compensation Commission may call on medical professionals to provide expert testimony about a PTSD case.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an unfortunate reality in many professions. Workers who are traumatized on the job should remember that they have options. If you are suffering symptoms of PTSD, you may find it helpful to meet with a Chicago workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the details of your case.