Stress, anxiety, and depression are among the most prevalent for injured workers. If left untreated, they can render a seemingly straightforward claim nearly unmanageable, resulting in poor outcomes and exorbitant costs. Increasingly, many in our industry are recognizing the need to proactively do all we can to address this critical issue. Open discussions and gaining a deeper understanding of a subject that, until now, has been taboo.
Why Mental Health in Workers Compensation Matters
Mental health conditions are the most expensive health challenges in the nation behind cancer and heart disease. These claims are growing by 10 percent annually. In the workers compensation system, mental health conditions have a significant impact on claim duration. Mental health problems can affect any employee at any time, and the reasons they develop are varied. Genetics, adverse childhood experiences, and environmental stimuli may be causes. The stress of having an occupational injury can be a trigger for anxiety or depression. These issues can develop unexpectedly and typically result in a creeping catastrophic claim.
In a workers compensation claim, it can become the elephant in the room that nobody wants to touch, talk about, or address. Organizations willing to look at and address these issues can see quicker recoveries. But there are several obstacles to be overcome. Treatment does work, and many people with mental health conditions do recover and lead healthy, productive lives. Avoiding the use of negative words or actions can help erase the stigma.
- Cultural differences affect the ability to identify and address mental health challenges. The perception of pain varies among cultures; For example, in the Hispanic community, the culture mandates being stoic and often avoiding medications that could help. Claims professionals and nurses need training to understand the cultural issues that may be at play so they do not miss the opportunity to help the injured worker.
- Addressing psychosocial issues in the workers compensation system on compliance, regulations, and legal management. While there is a concern about timelines and documentation, claims professionals are taught to get each claim to resolution as quickly and easily as possible. Medical providers are accustomed to working from tests and images within their own worlds, not on feelings and emotional well-being. It takes understanding and processes, which have not been the norm in the industry.
- The number of behavioral health specialists in the country is low, especially in the workers compensation system. Projections suggest that the demand will exceed the supply of such providers in the next decade.
Despite the challenges, there are actions employers and payers are successfully taking to identify and address psychosocial conditions. A team approach is used with the claim’s examiner, nurse, treating physician, and treating psychologist involved. The focus is on recovery and skill acquisition. Training and educating claims professionals are a tactic some organizations are taking to better address psychosocial issues among injured workers as well as ongoing communication with the injured worker is vital.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, and Other Mental Health Issues by Nolo Press
Mental Health and Well-Being in Workers Compensation from IRMI
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