The psychological effects of pursuing workers’ compensation benefits, and the anxiety related to the inability to return to work, even with a short-term disability, can reach far beyond the physical harm that stems from the initial injury. According to the medico legal thesis Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, many employees struggle with depression or emotional detachment related to the changes brought to their lives by an occupational injury or illness. However, the cost is borne by both the injured worker and the employer. Providing mental health services for injured workers is a costly hidden expense of occupational injuries and illnesses.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Centers for disease Control and Prevention focused more precisely on what should be compensable psychological harm in the form of depression. For the sake of this study, it is important to distinguish between post-injury depression and original compensable depression brought on by a hostile work environment, etc.
Findings related specifically to post-injury depression included that most workers’ compensation plans do not acknowledge that condition as being work-related even if depression was linked to a preceding occupational injury, and has been found to influence a workers’ ability to return to work. Furthermore, the study discovered that after-injury depression costs workers, group health insurers and/or taxpayers at least an extra $8.2 million within a three-month study period.
Researchers concluded that the true costs of occupational injuries and illnesses is underestimated because the $67 billion price tag for treating them does not include less tangible factors such as the effects on a worker’s daily activities or family life. These costs are usually covered by private medical insurance or paid by the workers themselves, as they are not frequently covered by workers’ compensation. However, logic dictates that if a correlation can be shown between occupational injury or illness and subsequent depression, the high costs of treating depression after an occupational injury or illness will be shifted to the workers’ compensation system.
The good news is that much of this type of depression is preventable by reassuring a newly injured claimant who is statistically likely to experience depression, that the employer will not penalize the worker for pursuing workers’ compensation benefits, but instead will take specific action to return the worker to his or her job as quickly as possible.