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Not All Wounds Are Visible: Impacts of PTSD in Construction

Updated: Jun 22, 2023


We have spent the past month discussing how to increase mental health awareness in construction and PTSD is one specific disorder to explore because of its wide-reaching impacts. Personally, I do not have lived experience with PTSD, however there are two very close people in my life that navigate PTSD and cPTSD (more on that later) from past traumas and its impacts on a daily basis. Learning a bit about the illness can deepen our understanding, and, as leaders, create a more supportive environment.


What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, series of events or set of circumstance.

People often associate trauma with a single, severe event (e.g. workplace violence, natural disaster, serious injury, sexual assault, etc.) that causes long-term side effects. However, this is not the only mental health illness that is related to trauma. cPTSD, or complex-PTSD, is the result of ongoing trauma such as abuse or neglect. The impact this has on someone is often intense and the symptoms are arduous to navigate, especially at work. Even more so in the construction workforce.


The nature of construction can be stressful and taxing, so workers may experience triggers related to past trauma such as loud noises, heights, or stressful situations. This can lead to anxiety, flashbacks, and difficulty concentrating. The high-pressure and physically demanding nature of the job can exacerbate the symptoms of cPTSD and lead to burnout and exhaustion.


What could this look like?

People struggling with this condition have problems regulating their emotions, a distorted sense of self, and a hard time forming relationships. Because of these symptoms, it's not easy for them to acknowledge that they need help. Instead, they may isolate themselves or conversely, lash out at their coworkers.


People that struggle with this condition often feel burdensome, however, they bring unique strengths and perspectives to the workplace. They are highly resilient and adaptable, having developed coping mechanisms to deal with past trauma. They are motivated and driven because of the challenges they have faced in their lives.


What can employers do?

Employers that can harness these strengths and help their employees with cPSTD will thrive in the workplace. Once a person with cPTSD feels comfortable in their environment, their heightened sense of empathy and emotional intelligence can become a valuable tool for helping to assist others.


Unfortunately, this can be challenging for men because of cultural expectations. Particularly in construction, they are expected to be strong and self-reliant. They are often made to feel ashamed or embarrassed about past experiences, especially those involving childhood abuse or neglect.


Women in the construction workforce may face their own unique set of challenges. The industry is traditionally male-dominated, and women may feel an extra layer of isolation and lack of support. Gender-based discrimination or harassment can be a source of trauma and aggravate symptoms. It’s imperative that employers recognize the symptoms and provide support and resources to their workers.


Prioritizing mental health isn’t an option these days, it’s a necessity in order to maintain a strong and reliable team.

Creating a safe and supportive work culture starts with open communication and commitment to employee well-being. This includes things like flexible work schedules, access to counseling/therapy, and regular check-ins with supervisors. Employers should encourage open dialogue and feedback with an emphasis on respect and inclusivity.


What can I do?

Not sure what you can do? Here are three things you can do today to support those navigating PTSD or cPTSD:

  1. Educate yourself - learn more about the disorder, symptoms, treatments, etc.

  2. Open up the conversation - start with those closest to you and share what you have learned, then ask questions, and invite others to share their stories.

  3. Understand available resources - find out about the resources you available available within your organization and communities so you can connect others to support.

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