How to tell if your colleague is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder

27 June 2017 -


The truth is that thousands of professional people are walking the streets, in families, in businesses, trying to hold down jobs and they don't realise they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder

Guest blogger Anna Pinkerton

The 2 clearest indicators to post-traumatic stress are the knowledge that a life threatening or life changing event has taken place and a change in the person's character.

Often workplaces are the best placed to show mental health care, but people often miss this opportunity.

If you know a colleague has gone through a devastating event, then you're in a great place to watch out for them. We often fear we are intruding, but believe me, if someone is in the neurological disarray of PTSD they will be grateful you have their back.

You have the opportunity to come to their aid, when they in fact cannot decipher what is going on. Untreated PTSD can lead to self-hatred and deep depression, and can be life threatening because of these consequential mental health problems.

Something to look out for in your colleague, is to notice if they've had a 'personality change'. A lot of people feel unlike themselves and it can be a terrifying symptom. Often, however, it is others who notice the more subtle changes.

For instance, if they cannot take a joke like they used to, they don't smile anymore, never accept invitations out, they drink heavily in a way they never used to. If the unusual and out of character behaviour continues, it could be a sign of PTSD.

Here is a symptom checklist that may help you recognise PTSD in someone else

Flashbulb and flashback memories - suddenly appearing vacant/distracted or appearing terrified for no apparent reason

Hyper-vigilance & startle response - person is jumpy at the slightest thing and has head on a 'swivel' checking what's happening around them

Can’t interpret physical or auditory stimuli - as above but can't decipher if there is true danger or perceived danger. The banging of a door is perceived as frightening & requires running from

Avoiding all triggers - Avoiding things that remind them of their trauma. Can't watch TV, listen to the radio, go out, or reduces social life and interaction

Sleep problems - getting off to sleep, staying asleep, fitful sleep, nightmares. May look exhausted and pale. May be unable to concentrate at all at work

Memory difficulties - short term memory loss is very common. The person may not be able to find pens, keys, or may forget what they've said so will repeat themselves many times

Neurological overload - trembling, anxiety, appears jittery, can't relax or stay still, you get the feeling that they're not listening and are looking vacant (it's not personal, it's neurological)

Shame - your colleague may feel embarrassed by their disarray, and that they can't 'pull themselves together'. It helps to let them know they're having a normal reaction to an extra-ordinary situation

Aggression towards self & others - in how they talk, treat themselves and others, some people can become unpredictably violent in a way they've never been before

Guilt, including survivor guilt and witness guilt - is your colleague consumed with guilt that they could have done more to help others? Or feel that they got off lightly, they survived when others didn’t?

What if? If only? Why me? - Look out for signs that they are turning the terrible events against themselves. Obsessing about what went wrong, what they could have done better, what they should have seen. Often ending in despair.

Depression - often trauma symptoms are so overwhelming, the person tries their hardest to suppress them. This means 'squashing' feelings down so they don't hurt as much and the person can try and ignore them. Suppression in this instance, can lead to depression and a previously dynamic, gregarious person can appear very low in mood.

All of these symptoms alone are perfectly normal for a short time after shocking events. However, if you see that a colleague has a combination of these symptoms after a month, it could be PTSD and require specialist treatment.

Article written by Anna Pinkerton, author of Smile Again: Your Recovery from Burnout, Breakdown and Overwhelming Stress, available from Amazon, priced £9.99.

Anna Pinkerton is a therapeutic coach, corporate therapist and a leading expert in post-traumatic stress disorder. For more information, visit

Powered by Professional Manager