It is common practice for small businesses to hire ex-military servicemen and women. Veterans often bring with them a set of values and a work ethic that support a small business bottom line.

With that being said, Wednesday, November 11th is Veteran's Day. This is when the country celebrates the service of the many men and women who served in the United States military. We hear about the glory of service and how we should hire and support vets, especially as they return from the different campaigns the U.S. has been engaged in over the last few years. But what we don't hear enough about, especially in the workplace, is the toll that the military and the events surrounding combat play on the psyche of our vets. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.

What is interesting is that PTSD isn't just for vets! You may work alongside a co-worker who has PTSD and even yet, that person may be unaware of their problem. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they're no longer in danger. PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. What this means is that someone could be working and experience a feeling of dread and anxiety based on a trigger that he may or may not be aware of. This could certainly cause performance to plummet for that individual as he attempts to reconcile what is going on in his head.

It is normal for the mind and body to be in shock after a terrifying event, but this normal response becomes PTSD when your nervous system gets "stuck." According to http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-veterans.htm the latest research into the brain shows that there are three ways of regulating the nervous system and responding to stressful events:

  1. Social engagement is the most evolved strategy for keeping yourself feeling calm and safe.
  2. Mobilization, otherwise known as the fight-or-flight response, occurs when social engagement isn't an appropriate response.
  3. Immobilization occurs when you've experienced a traumatic amount of stress--in combat, for example. The physical danger of war has passed but you find yourself "stuck," your nervous system unable to return to its pre-stress state of balance.

Here are some facts (based on the U.S. population) according to http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp:

  1. About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  2. About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  3. About 10 of every 100 (or 10%) of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 (or 4%) of men.

Helpguide.org goes on to state that for some this includes recurrent, intrusive reminders of the traumatic event, with distressing thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks where you feel like it's happening again. This then prompts the individual to have extreme avoidance of things that remind him of the traumatic event, including people, places, thoughts, or situations you associate with the bad memories.

It is very common for a person affected by PTSD to withdraw from friends and family and lose interest in everyday activities to include work. The employee may experience negative changes in thoughts and mood, such as exaggerated negative beliefs about self or the world and persistent feelings of fear, guilt, or shame. This puts them on guard all the time,  and makes them jumpy and emotionally reactive, as indicated by irritability, angry outbursts, reckless behavior, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, hypervigilance, and an exaggerated start response. This will be disconcerting for the individual, but it will definitely raise eyebrows in the workplace.

As the symptoms persist, the individual may start experiencing extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the trauma (panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations, etc.) which are physical indicators. But what usually creates a problem for the employer is their employee's diminished ability to experience positive emotions and feeling detached from others. This can and often leads to absenteeism and presentism (defined as being present at the job, but emotionally and mentally not available or present).

So, as we wave the flag and give our hip-hip hoorays, don't forget that someone may be suffering in silence and could use your help and support. What that can mean is becoming a little more in tune and aware of people in the workplace. Once you identify that something is going on, then recommend that that person speaks to someone whether internal like the Employee Assistance Program or external of the organization such as a therapist or psychiatrist. The good news is that there are medications available for PTSD, and with ongoing and consistent therapy a person can regain his mental wellness and balance.

Published on: Nov 4, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.