Many people think of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an issue for war veterans, but it is increasingly gaining attention as a workplace issue.

Some Canadian provinces are passing what’s called presumptive legislation around PTSD, which means that when a worker has PTSD, it is presumed that the condition was caused on the job.

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Sandi Mowat, R.N., president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, discusses PTSD and the workplace in an interview that appears in the May/June issue of Plans & Trusts magazine. The nurses union began looking at whether PTSD affects nurses and joined other groups in successfully lobbying for amendments to Manitoba’s Workers Compensation Act to recognize PTSD as a work-related occupational disease.

PTSD is a mental health diagnosis that results from an individual experiencing and witnessing and then processing a traumatic event, Mowat explains. It is cumulative, so “someone can be exposed to traumatic events over a long period of time and have some symptoms of PTSD and then have a triggering event and, because of the cumulative nature of it, will go on to develop PTSD.”

Firefighters, police officers and nurses—any type of worker exposed to traumatic events—are among the most exposed to PTSD, but “the effect of trauma on nurses has been overlooked mostly because it’s an accepted part of the profession,” Mowat says. “We found that 53% of nurses have experienced critical incident stress and in general have a great likelihood of experiencing PTSD at least once in their career.”

Alberta was the first province to enact presumptive legislation, and it’s specific to firefighters, first responders and police officers, Mowat says. Ontario passed a bill in April that covers first responders.

Manitoba’s law, effective January 1, 2016, did not define occupations. The law acknowledges that “PTSD can be the result of any traumatic incident in any workplace,” Mowat notes.

Recognizing PTSD as an occupational disease makes it easier for employees to get the supports they need, Mowat says. “If it’s acknowledged as a psychological illness and a workplace hazard, getting workers’ compensation supports should be more seamless along with receiving the actual compensation if you’re off work. It’s also the hope that you’ll get the psychological support that you need when you’re off work.”

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Editor, Publications at the International Foundation

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS

Editor, Publications at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation service/product: Benefits Magazine and Plans & Trusts

Benefits related topics that interest her most: Financial literacy, health and wellness programs

Favorite Foundation conference moment: Hearing attendees sing “O, Canada” at Canadian Annual in addition to hearing the anthem sung in both French and English.

Personal Insight: Whether she’s collecting information for a magazine story or hanging out with her family and friends, you know Kathy is fully engaged. Her listening ear and introspective nature provide reassuring presence to those enjoying her company.

1 Comment

  1. James McGee

    Thank you for raising this important issue.

    One should not forget transportation workers. Bus operators are too frequently traumatized directly by abusive passengers and both bus and train operators witness traumatic events in the form of accidents, shootings, jumpers, etc.

    The failure of employers and workers’ comp to recognize PTSD as a work related event compounds the employee’s trauma.
    PTSD is another reason why employees’ need a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

    Maybe someday, Americans will adopt the more enlightened views of our neighbors to the north.

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