PTSD and EAP
PTSD is usually associated with former service personnel reliving some of the traumas of their active careers. However increasing evidence now links PTSD to victims of violent assaults, children who have been subject to abuse and people who have witnessed serious accidents or attacks. The environment in which our officers work has exposed some of our members to situations which may result in them suffering PTSD:
- Immigration Enforcement officers are subject to increasing level of hostility. There have been several recent, brutal attacks on our colleagues.
- Members operating in the Eurotunnel site have witnessed intruders being electrocuted or maimed by trains.
- The staff in Paris and Brussels were caught up in the recent terrorist activity.
In approximately 85% of cases symptoms of PTSD will develop in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic event. However my experience working with the Royal British Legion has demonstrated to me that most people who suffer from PTSD don’t recognise the symptoms in themselves. This is where a good friend group, family support or alert work colleagues prove to be invaluable. Usually the sufferer will exhibit behaviour that is out of character.
Symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Increased Irritability, especially with family members or colleagues.
- Vivid memories or flashbacks.
- Emotional detachment or a flood of overwhelming emotion.
- Difficulty remembering information or being prone to distraction.
The key to successfully treating PTSD is effective diagnoses. The ISU are working with the Employee Assistance Programme to ensure that appropriate guidance is given to members who may be suffering from PTSD. We are also pushing the department to acknowledge the risk and to introduce training for managers to help them identify staff who are suffering from PTSD as well as manage other causes of stress. In the meantime members should be aware of behavioural changes in their colleagues.
PTSD should not be confused with the stresses that the majority of members are subjected to on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean that stress in the workplace should be ignored. Workplace stress has been consistently rising across the service. The department continue to use a discriminatory performance management tool. Shifts are compiled in such a way that one doctor commented that “it would be difficult to come up with a pattern that could be more disruptive to the natural physiological state.” The Annual Hours Policy means many members struggle to achieve a meaningful work – life balance; and those who are not persuaded to sign up to what they see as an invidious policy are subjected to relentless corporate bullying. A chronic under investment in staff has resulted in many staff being unable to take Annual Leave, and the department’s response has been to try and buy it back from them at less than their normal hourly rate. These are examples of only a few of the many everyday stresses our members are subjected to. There has been very little offered to Operational Mangers to help them to manage stress in the workplace so it should come as no surprise that even less has been offered to staff who may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress.
The Employee Assistance Programme is available to all staff. In 2015 only 150 employees across the Home Office utilised the services of the EAP. This figure is not an accurate reflection of the number of staff who have sought help for the stresses of their lives and suggests that the services offered by the EAP are not understood or utilised by managers or staff. The feedback from colleagues who have used the EAP has been mixed and the ISU are working with the providers to try and ensure that the service level is consistent and appropriate to the needs of our members.
As a result of concerns raised by the ISU over the lack of support for staff experiencing PTSD we were offered a briefing from the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP or HELP). It is clear from that meeting that there are a massive range of services available to staff from EAP which are not advertised by the employer. We are aware that there have been problems in accessing the EAP service recently; however we are assured that the IT problems which caused this are resolved; and we also now have a dedicated contact within EAP to raise any concerns over service for members.
EAP offer a full “health and wellbeing” service. It is available 24/7 through the phone line 0800 917 7395 or through the website www.hoeap.com. There are hundreds of articles and fact sheets on the website, as well as podcasts, on anything from family issues, consumer law, through debt to health and workplace stress. There are even sections on career and personal development. (Although the service is available to HO employees the workplace advice is not Home Office Specific.)
If you have an issue which you need help with – workplace related or not – you can either browse the website or call. If the issue you raise requires that you speak to a qualified person EAP are committed to calling you back, in the UK or abroad, within 3 hours.
EAP offer counselling / coaching sessions if needed which can be face to face, on the phone or web based. You can access up to 6 sessions, increased to 8 with manager consent, per issue per year. You can also access 8 sessions of online cognitive behavioural therapy to complete at your own pace. EAP is designed as a primary source, rather than a long term source of support,. But if you need more long term support they can help you to obtain it through your GP or other providers.
No-one needs to know you have contacted EAP. The service is independent of Home Office and completely confidential other than in some very specific instances which are explained in advance.
EAP is also not only for the affected individual. If you are a manger not sure of how to have a difficult conversation, or you want to know how to support a work colleague going through difficult times this is for you too. You can ring EAP and ask for support on how to help someone else. With the permission of someone who is experiencing difficulty you can ring EAP and given them contact details to ring the other person back.
It is clear that EAP offer a far more wide reaching service than members are generally aware of. It is an important source of information and a wide range of topics and as such we felt it was important to make members aware of the breadth of support available. However it is not the dedicated support for staff with serious mental health problems arising from the workplace and we continue to press the employer to cover these.
If you experience difficulties with accessing EAP support please let us know.
Remember: we do your job, we specialise in the areas you work in, join the ISU and the only dedicated trade union for people working in Border Force, Immigration and Customs