With over 130 innocent people so tragically killed in the terrorist attacks perpetrated on central Paris on Friday 13 November, it must also be recognised that there are many hundreds more who witnessed those horrifying events unfold, including security personnel who could now be deeply traumatised but, at some stage, will be looking to return to work.
In the event of a similar terrorism episode occurring in the UK, it’s likely that few employers would know how to recognise if their members of staff are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and, importantly, what to do about it. That’s the view of PTSD Resolution, the specialist charity concerned with Armed Forces’ veterans’ mental welfare.
Most organisations have contingency plans in place to deal with disruption caused by acts of terrorism and other catastrophic events, but it’s fair to suggest that few plan for the ensuing impact on the mental health and well-being of their staff. That impact can be considerable, both in terms of a company’s finances and in relation to the human costs.
The current level of threat posed by terrorism on the UK mainland as notified by MI5 is ‘Severe’ (meaning that an attack of some kind is ‘Highly likely’). On that basis, PTSD Resolution asserts that organisations need a strategy to identify and deal with the impact of an event on the mental health of personnel.
“You don’t need to turn line managers or Human Resources staff into psychotherapists,” explained Piers Bishop, director of therapy for PTSD Resolution, “but rather have an understanding of the symptoms of trauma in the organisation and then signpost treatment.”
In conversation with Risk UK, Bishop continued: “Some appropriate training is recommended for managers. The key issues can usually be dealt with in a short course, as is recommended for CPR resuscitation training. You could argue that both are essential skills in the private security business sector.”
Developing a culture of openness
Organisations also need to develop a culture of openness about mental health and a clear strategy to identify and resolve issues when they arise without fear of embarrassment or sanction for employees.
That culture should embrace a process for staff to say when they’re struggling with a problem in any area of their work. According to Bishop, this may not be directly related to an incident, but instead symptomatic of trauma.
Critical to this are online assessment systems for periodic staff reviews designed to identify quickly and easily if there might be a problem and start a conversation.
The strategy should include prompt access to professional help. “After all,” stated Bishop, “operational machinery is maintained regularly and repaired when necessary. It’s rational to adopt the same approach with your people.”
The local GP will likely not have the skills to hand required for a trauma specialist. The NHS guidelines do not recommend medication for post-trauma symptoms, but many GPs still offer anti-depressants to new trauma cases.
PTSD Resolution’s Best Practice advice is to insist on a referral to a trauma clinic.
“Therapy isn’t always the best policy,” commented Bishop. “In many cases, initial symptoms subside over a few days or weeks. It’s usually best to let this process happen by itself. Critical incident debriefing, whereby everyone involved in an event is given counselling, is now thought to cause more problems than it actually solves.”
If the symptoms have not subsided after a month, or have become worse, it’s then time to do something about it.
In conclusion, Bishop told Risk UK: “If a member of staff is or might be suffering from the effects of trauma, the policy should be to let them know that, as an organisation, you’re fully aware of what they have been through, that the culture is to be open about stress reactions and to assist them in receiving help if necessary so that everyone can continue to work well together.”