In 2020, 13 million Americans were living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can feel like there’s no escaping past traumas when you have PTSD. But with the help of medical professionals, people with PTSD can learn to cope with their triggers. Being in a supportive work environment matters. When someone with PTSD is triggered, it is important that they can tell their employer or a colleague.
“People with PTSD experience tenseness on a consistent basis, or when they come across a trigger. In both situations, the body has primed itself to be in defense mode. One of the best ways to address this issue is to meet with a therapist for exposure and response therapy,” says Thomas Hughes, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and founder of The C.U.B.E. mental health services.
“Employers need to open lines of communication. You can’t make accommodations for someone if you don’t know what the accommodations are or why they are necessary,” he says.
And the reasoning behind PTSD depends on the individual. For Dr. Sonja Stribling, who received the Barack Obama Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, her experience as a combat veteran led to a PTSD diagnosis nine years ago.
Since then, she founded companies including P3 Global Services and Women Speak and Grow Rich. She even gained a following over the years and currently has 113,000 followers on Instagram alone. The Atlanta-based life coach took the time to speak with Forbes about how to better support employees with PTSD, and what it’s like to have a disorder that comes with so much stigma.
Maya Richard-Craven: How long have you been a speaker, trainer, and coach?
Dr. Sonja Stribling: I began training other women— let’s say since 2014.
Richard-Craven: How long did you serve in the military, and where did you serve?
Stribling: There’s probably about seven different locations in those twenty-one years. I was in Kuwait for two or three years. I spent six years in Germany. Fort Carson, Colorado for a short period of time. That was my very first duty station. I was also in Hawaii for three years.
Richard-Craven: What did you do during your time in the military?
Stribling: I spent the majority of the time in HR. It wasn’t the typical behind the desk type of HR. I found myself doing HR where I would go to a company and help employees come back, readjust, and figure out what medical help they needed. I had doctors and nurses that worked for me to help me service the client or supplies. I’ve been behind a desk and been responsible for the whereabouts of civilians and military service members that are in combat.
Richard-Craven: When were you diagnosed with PTSD?
Stribling: When I retired in 2014. There was stigma associated with being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Richard-Craven: Did you feel stigma came from everywhere or from the Black community specifically?
Stribling: It came from everywhere. In the military, I was exposed to a lot of things. And I knew there was racism. I experienced that, but more genderism because of being a female in some of those positions.
Richard-Craven: What is the most important thing you learned from being in combat?
Stribling: Camaraderie. You learn more about how to handle pressure when you aren’t just responsible for your well-being but for other people. It makes you look at things differently.
Richard-Craven: What would you tell other people with PTSD who are struggling at work?
Stribling: This is your new normal. Embrace it. Get help. This is something that doesn’t go away. This is my new normal. I know what triggers me. I know when it’s time for self-care and to take a pause. You have PTSD, it doesn’t have you.
Richard-Craven: How can employers support their employees with PTSD?
Stribling: Programs could be put in place for them to have a safe place to voice what is taking place. Nobody is going to understand except for the people that have been through it.
Richard-Craven: Why should companies care about employees who have PTSD?
Stribling: Honestly, I thought PTSD was just military. I quickly learned that it is for anyone who’s been through some type of trauma. Something happens psychologically. People should care because it could be your family. It could be your child. It could be your mom. And the more we understand the better.
Richard-Craven: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about PTSD and the workplace?
Stribling: I began to embrace it because it was one of the biggest fears that I had while building my own business. I thought I would always live a life of anxiety, fear, and stress. I sought professional help to help manage it. I have post-traumatic stress disorder. It doesn’t have me.
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