Can I Continue Working with PTSD?

The ability to continue working with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is often dependent on the severity, frequency and duration of the symptoms you experience, including how common and pronounced your episodes or flashbacks of the triggering event are.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that results from you living through or witnessing a traumatic event in which your life or the lives of others were threatened. The exact causes of the condition are unknown, and the reason some people who experience trauma develop PTSD while others do not is not known either. Regardless, PTSD changes the way the body reacts to stress, including fundamental changes in the chemicals and hormones that communicate information in the nervous system.

Not only can the symptoms of PTSD affect your ability to work, but the treatments required for managing the ailment can as well, including necessary therapy and medications.

PTSD and Mental Capacity

People with PTSD exhibit three primary mental symptoms with this disorder. They “relive” the traumatic event or events that caused the PTSD, either during their waking or sleeping hours. They additionally exhibit “avoidance tendencies”, which is a mental or psychological detachment from everyday life, and “arousal tendencies”, which is a psychological state of heightened awareness or vigilance.

Reliving the event(s) can cause severe disruption to daily life. PTSD sufferers may experience flashbacks, pronounced and overwhelming memories, and repetitive nightmares. They may also have exaggerated reactions to any event or occurrence that reminds them of the root event that resulted in their PTSD. For instance, solders with PTSD may react to fireworks or backfiring vehicles as they would in a combat situation: taking cover, looking for a retreat path, and even falling into a flashback scenario in which they speak to comrades who were present during the initial traumatic event.

Avoidance symptoms that come with PTSD may cause sufferers to feel or be detached from everyday life. They may not communicate well, and may avoid situations, people or activities that remind them of the trauma they experienced. Additionally, they may experience memory issues and lack empathy, due to their overall detachment from their own emotional state. Avoidance symptoms can also result in a feeling of hopelessness, as well as depression, or a complete lack of interest in the future.

The heightened state of vigilance of awareness that comes with PTSD arousal symptoms results in trouble concentrating and focusing. PTSD sufferers may not be able to sleep during these periods either. They often overreact to everyday experiences and may get scared easily or have frequent, emotional outbursts.

Other symptoms that are common with PTSD are related to stress and anxiety. And many PTSD sufferers also experience survivor’s guilt, which can lead to pronounced depression symptoms as well.

Obviously, all of these mental symptoms can affect your ability to work with PTSD. Often those who work in more stressful jobs, like ER doctors for instance, have a more difficult time maintaining employment with PTSD because their heightened stress level everyday on the job triggers continuous and constant exacerbation of PTSD symptoms.

PTSD sufferers that work in louder and more physical jobs also often have a harder time maintaining employment, though anyone who suffers from PTSD may experience mental capacity diminishment severe enough to prevent their continued participation in gainful work.

PTSD and Physical Capacity

Though the manifestation of PTSD symptoms is primarily mental and psychological in nature, there are physical symptoms that often occur with the condition as well, especially as a result of stress, anxiety and depression. These physical symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, fainting and headaches. When PTSD symptoms are at their worst, both the physical and psychological manifestations of the disorder can be very pronounced. Debilitating physical symptoms can make it impossible for PTSD sufferers to perform their everyday job responsibilities, whether they work in sedentary jobs or more active or manual labor positions. Your ability to continue to perform the physical requirements of your own job depends entirely on how severe your physical symptoms are and how frequently they occur.

Applying for Disability with PTSD

If you need to file for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits because of your PTSD, you’ll need to prove the symptoms you experience meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) eligibility requirements. Essentially, your application and medical records must show that your PTSD prevents you from maintaining gainful employment.

The SSA evaluates SSD claims for PTSD under the listed medical condition of anxiety disorders. Your application must either meet the listed criteria or must otherwise be found to prevent you from working. Most claims for PTSD are actually approved for disability benefits under a “medical vocational allowance”. In other words, even if your condition doesn’t precisely meet the listing for anxiety disorders, with proper documentation and thorough medical records, your application for SSD benefits can still be approved.

While SSD eligibility is possible with a PTSD application, you must still show your condition is severe enough to stop you from working in your regular career and any other field or job for which you might otherwise be qualified. Achieving this requires you work closely with your treating physician and any mental healthcare providers you’ve seen. You may also want to get help from a Social Security advocate or attorney. 

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