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Symptoms of Mental Trauma You Need to Know Before it is Too late
Written by: Krista McIntosh
If you are physically injured at work you recognize it. Most often, the injury is identified immediately after an unfortunate action, like slipping on the stairs and twisting an ankle or dropping a heavy object on your foot. The actions leading up to the injury are understood and the symptoms are obvious and well known – pain, bruising, bleeding and so on. If you were to suffer mental injury at work, however, would you recognize it? With a little knowledge, you can begin to see mental injuries as clearly as you can see physical ones.
Often, even when symptoms of a mental injury are apparent and affecting you, the tendency is to explain the symptoms away or make excuses for them. Worse yet, many of the contributing factors that lead up to an injury are dismissed as “that’s just the way it is around here” or are engrained in the culture. Sadly, not only is there a stigma associated with workplace mental trauma but also there is negative stigma associated with pushing back on the practices and cultural elements that cause them.
First, let’s take a quick look at some common factors that can cause stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and other illnesses that affect your mental wellness. An emerging term in the field of employee mental trauma is “occupational stress injury” which is most often associated with single events the likes of which our first responders see. However, it is the cumulative effect of stress that can result in the most severe reactions. Do you identify with any of the following cumulative stress factors? :
- Ongoing conflict with co-workers or your boss
- Being asked to do something that conflicts with your personal values
The Mental Health Commission of Canada describes “Moral Injury” in the same category as grief. When you are required to do something that goes against your most deeply held values, you are likely to experience a “moral injury”. Examples can include unscrupulous company activities such as “fudging reports”
- Lack of control over decisions that affect you
Work Safe Alberta outlines what elements of a workplace design represent the highest risk for a psychological injury. Workers who have very little input into how their work is performed, yet have high consequence for error are at a higher risk of developing a workplace psychological stress injury.
- Uncertainty of your role or your future
- A culture of negativity
- Feeling unappreciated or misunderstood
- Lack of accountability
Because it is cumulative exposure to these situations that cause injury, and not a one-time incident, their effects can go unnoticed and they are not recognized as workplace hazards.
Just like the consequences of slipping on the stairs may range from something you can just brush off to a broken bone, exposure to the factors listed above can result in a range of outcomes. Many of us are exposed to these factors to some extent, so how do you tell if you are being injured by them? The answer should be easy: look for signs and symptoms. Let’s take a look at the list of symptoms below and guess which ones are precursors to mental injury:
- Low energy
- Increased irritability and lessened patience
- Lack of motivation or procrastination
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Inability to focus or concentrate on tasks
- Decreased desire to socialize or interact with friends and family
- Ongoing nervousness or nervousness when you normally wouldn’t be
- Muscle aches and headaches
- Increased sarcasm or negative comments
- Increase in drinking, gambling, or high-risk activities
There are three key takeaways from this list, and you’ve likely guessed them:
- If you are human, you will experience everything on the list at some point and time no matter how physically and mentally healthy you are
- All of the items listed are signs and symptoms of reactivity to a negative situation
- A quick look at the list and it is apparent how you could miss the symptoms of an oncoming mental injury and how easy it would be to explain these symptoms away
So back to the initial question: If you were to suffer mental injury at work would you recognize it? You likely wouldn’t at first. However, if you experience multiple items listed above regularly, you are showing signs of reacting to what is going on in your environment and should take steps to remedy the situation before it progresses to an injury.
Organizations are recognizing the importance of providing an environment that is safe from mental hazards as well as physical ones. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has outlined 13 factors associated with a mentally healthy workplace. This list can be found here. A positive work culture with clear expectations and accountabilities can go a long way in reducing occupational stress injuries. For information on how to transform a negative culture into a positive one, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn.
This blog post was originally posted in October 2017 on the ACTivate HR blog. View the original post here.
Krista is a speaker at CPHR Alberta’s 2018 Conference: HR Undefined
The Session: Employees Resisting Change? Here’s Why
Participants will be introduced to an innovative, strength-based approach to leading change. This unique method identifies the strengths and values of the organization which have led to previous successes and uses them to build a plan for change. The approach is highly collaborative and, because it is based on past successes, results in high engagement along with faster and more sustained results than traditional approaches.
In contrast to viewing change as something to be managed, this strength-based method leads groups to see change positively and as an opportunity to replicate past successes and achievements. This flexible approach is effective with small groups as well as for organization-wide initiatives. It can be successfully utilized in a range of change initiatives from technology implementations to workplace culture change. As a versatile and practical methodology, it is a must-have for any HR practitioner’s toolkit.
This session will review a recent case study where a strength-based approach was used to identify and plan the implementation of change initiatives to address engagement survey results. Attendees will receive a handout outlining the benefits of using this approach, a summary of the process and objectives of each step, tips for successful implementation and links to additional resources.