Image of a military man and a woman holding handWhile post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often linked to military service, anyone can experience this mental illness. During Mental Health Month, learn about the positive effect work can have on PTSD and discover ways to help manage PTSD in the workplace.

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Working with PTSD

May 14, 2019

Image of a military man and a woman holding handWhen in danger, it's natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This "fight-or-flight" response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm.

But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or disrupted. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they're no longer in danger.

PTSD can develop after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Someone who develops PTSD may have been harmed, harm may have come to his or her loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful or very frightening event.

Due to the nature of combat, PTSD is often associated with military service. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans who have PTSD varies based on service area and when someone served in the military. However, estimates show that 11–30% of veterans (depending on their responsibilities or service era) have been diagnosed with PTSD.

In recognition of Mental Health Month and Military Appreciation Month, let's take a look at what work can mean to someone with PTSD.

Work and PTSD

Your ability to work when you have PTSD can depend on the severity of your condition and the effect that treatments have on you. However, work can also have a positive effect on your mental health because it offers you:

  • Structure and routine
  • A sense of purpose and accomplishment
  • The opportunity to build relationships and community
  • Financial self-sufficiency and security
  • Increased confidence

Getting a handle on PTSD at work

PTSD can affect any person, regardless of gender, age, or vocation. You may never know when your symptoms will appear, and we understand that this can be scary. To help you navigate and succeed in the workplace, it may be helpful to think about the following:

  • Workplace accommodations: For people with PTSD, these can include
    • Providing instructions in writing, to help if you have difficulties with memory
    • Allowing you to wear noise-cancelling headphones to help with distracting noises
    • Letting you access apps for anxiety and stress

Your employer may have an employee assistance program, also known as an EAP. EAPs may allow you access to mental health professionals, providing you with assessment and services to address personal problems and mental health concerns that can affect your well-being and your work. EAPs can also give you tools for identifying triggers, stress management and general coping skills. Typically, when an employer has an EAP, it is offered at no cost to you as the employee; however, there may be a limited number of sessions available.

  • Identify a mentor. Talking with and seeking guidance from someone who's working with PTSD, especially with someone in the same career field, can offer you the support and strategies you need to help you succeed in the workplace.

Cherie's experience with PTSD

PTSD doesn't only affect veterans. As a young adult, Cherie suffered from treatment-resistant depression that made it difficult for her to recover from difficult and often devastating events in her life. But after being hospitalized due to a violent attack, Cherie's condition worsened. She was diagnosed with PTSD and stopped working. It wasn't until a car wreck that Cherie found the support and the treatment plan that helped her make progress towards recovery.

The decision to work came by surprise, as she started working part-time in an office to help a friend. Realizing the positive impact of work on her mental health, Cherie started considering full-time employment. You can learn more about Cherie's path to work and how Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) program helped succeed in her story, Endurance.

Ticket to Work

The Ticket program thanks America's veterans for their service, not only during Military Appreciation Month, but every day. We recognize that you have a lot to offer employers, and encourage you to check out our resources specifically for you in Ticket to Work for America's Veterans.

The Ticket program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

By participating in the Ticket program, you'll have access to a wide variety of free services from Ticket to Work service providers. These service providers can become your Employment Team, ready to support you on your journey to financial independence. Your service provider can identify accommodations and other workplace supports that can help you succeed in the workforce. 

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

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