Depression is a common consequence of workplace injuries across industries, regardless of the nature of the injury. In fact, a recent study reported that 25-45% of injured workers develop symptoms of depression as early as one month after injury. Mental illness in an injured employee can set a trajectory for a poorer outcome, and in the workers’ compensation system, mental health conditions can significantly impact claim duration and long-term costs.
“An injured worker’s mental health plays a significant role in their recovery time, and left untreated, it can make a return to work less likely and contribute to the complexity and duration of medical treatment,” said Mark Walls, Vice President of Client Engagement at Safety National. “Psychiatric history, family history, living conditions and social dynamics can all influence their state of mind and need to be considered when identifying factors delaying recovery.”
Here are a few of the challenges associated with these trends and how employers can help.
Psychological Impact on Healing
Mental health is a key component of wellness. It is a state of well-being in which an individual can cope and become a contributor. It includes how someone feels, thinks and acts and helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. When excluded from the focus of an injured worker’s recovery, it can have just as large of an impact as existing comorbidities. In fact, the top two drivers of overall healthcare costs are stress and mental health – far more than physical illness or injury.
Mental health is also directly associated with performance in the workplace, with a staggering 33% of 40.2 million work days lost due to stress, anxiety or depression. Certain industries, like construction, still face higher suicide rates due to the stigma around seeking treatment. These workers also typically suffer a massive wage loss if they are out of work due to an injury, so they may self-medicate with opioids to remain on the job, leading to higher opioid addiction rates than other industries.
Challenges in Treatment
Among the challenges of mental health treatment in workers’ compensation include a lack of medical providers and treatment guidelines. There is a fear that engaging in mental health treatment will open a door that allows unrelated conditions into the claim. However, the idea of completely unrelated conditions does not exist when it comes to a worker’s recovery from a workplace injury. Failing to address issues such as mental health will ultimately impact the outcomes of the claim.
How Employers Can Help
Employers with an employee assistance program (EAP) already have access to mental health services. Employers should be utilizing these services to their full extent on workers’ compensation claims. Too often, a workers’ compensation claims handler is not aware of the EAP and the available services, so the employer is responsible for ensuring a seamless handoff between their workers’ compensation and non-occupational benefit programs. Employers instituting a program to engage their EAP on existing claims have been associated with an overall decrease in workers’ compensation claims costs.