24/7 help for employees key to preventing PTSD

Each day brings its own small stressors, but what happens when a traumatic incident affects your ability to cope at work?  

Thanks to a team of compassionate staff, Covenant Health employees have access to people, resources and tools to get to a positive place during a tough time.

“The brain is like a muscle, and just like any muscle, we have to look after it,” says Rob Protz, member of the Critical Incidence Stress Management (CISM) team. Rob says when someone is psychologically or emotionally affected after a traumatic incident, there’s a stigma attached to it—but instead of ignoring it, we need to address it to help the person improve.

The CISM team provides peer support to help staff. Their aim is to prevent someone from going down the road toward suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Critical Incident Stress Management is a comprehensive, integrated, systematic and multi-component approach to managing traumatic events. It can help groups as well as individual employees. The team consists of 30 people on call 24/7, and there’s always one person on call to respond to any employee who needs assistance coping with a dynamic situation.

“We are not psychologists or therapists; we are a peer support group that looks at the situation and tries to get people to a positive place,” says Rob. “We also give education to staff on self-awareness on how the incident may impact them and assist in providing coping mechanisms in order to get back to a normal routine, including sleep habits and eating routines."

“We deal with a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, where a person’s senses are overloaded and the impact might be immediate or a cumulative stress situation,” says Rob. “You never know when we get called to a situation. It’s typically traumatic incidents—death of children, complicated death, a prolonged resuscitation or even a person who was in long-term care and then dies."

Rob Protz is a member of Covenant Health’s Critical Incident Stress Management team, a 24/7 service available to employees who experience a traumatic incident at work.

While team members come from all occupations within Covenant Health, they benefit from having a clinical psychologist to provide expert advice, ensure team members aren’t affected, assure quality and identify gaps in education or resources.

“It’s important for employees to have a safe and confidential venue to come forward to share their feelings to help provide the best outcome,” says Jeff Sych, Registered Psychologist and Clinical Director of CISM.

Jeff says having a team to help is important, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee employees will use the service.

“It’s not enough to know that the support is available,” says Jeff. “It’s more important to know how the team works with the employee, that their information is going to be kept private, and that a peer is available and someone can help employees navigate the system."

Kim Crowe, a social worker in the Grey Nuns’ Tertiary Palliative Care unit, has been working on the team for 18 months and believes in their true purpose. “It’s all about supporting co-workers in a friendly setting,” says Kim. “Whether that’s just listening or letting someone pick your brain for ideas and resources, staff can trust that they can say anything and it will be kept confidential."

Tips for coping after a traumatic event

·         Alternate exercise and rest within the first 24 to 48 hours of the event.  

·         Eat well-balanced, regular meals.

·         Structure your time—keep busy, keep a normal schedule.

·         Talk to people—talking is the best healing.

·         Reach out—spend time with people.

·         Keep a journal—write your way through sleepless hours.

·         Do not numb the pain with alcohol or other drugs.

·         Give yourself permission to feel rotten—share feelings with others.

·         Don’t make big life changes.

·         Do things that make you feel good.

·         Share feelings with co-workers—check how they are doing.

·         Make small daily decisions to give yourself control over your life.

·         Don’t fight recurring dreams, thoughts or flashbacks—they will diminish over time.

·         Realize others around you are also under stress. 

Telltale signs a co-worker is experiencing stress

·         Physical problems: fatigue, upset stomach, poor appetite

·         Cognitive problems: inability to concentrate, issues with problem solving

.         Emotional problems: mood swings, more irritable than normal

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