Claiming Worker’s Compensation for Depression or Anxiety
Stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, even when caused by work, are not compensable in most states. However, mental illness that accompanies a work-related physical injury is compensable in most states. For example, a nurse who develops depression related to his or her work in an emergency room typically would not be entitled to workers’ compensation, but a nurse who is attacked and then physically injured by a patient – and as a result develops anxiety – could legitimately receive workers’ compensation benefits for the physical, as well as the mental injury.
Distinguishing Post – Injury Depression
A recent study by Abay Asfaw, Ph.D., and Kerry Souza, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focused more narrowly on what should be compensable psychological harm in the form of depression. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published Asfaw’s and Souza’s findings in an article titled “Incidence of Depression After Occupational Injury.”
Distinguishing post-injury depression from the variety that is “original” compensable harm, such as the type that can result from a hostile work environment, is important. This distinction must be made because of the different factors, and different treatments, related to depressions that stem from circumstances related to someone’s work and distress related to compensable physical harm.
One spoiler regarding the researchers’ findings is that “injured workers were more likely than non-injured workers to suffer from depression during the study period. Consequently, additional costs are incurred for treating injured workers’ depression; these costs were not covered by the workers’ compensation system.” Another spoiler is that “the occupational health community, employers, and others may reasonably anticipate that injured workers may need mental health services.”
Collateral damage from a compensable incident often extends well beyond physical harm that stems from the initial injury. The psychological effects of even short-term disabilities, pursuing workers’ compensation benefits, and anxiety regarding an ability to return to work can be severe. For employers, providing mental health services for injured workers is a costly hidden expense of occupational injuries and illnesses.
Hidden Costs of Compensable Harm
The researchers concluded that the estimated $67 billion price tag for treating occupational injuries and illnesses excludes “costs that are indirect or more difficult to quantify, such as the effects on a worker’s (daily) activities or family life.” The study determined as well that “these costs are usually borne by private medical insurance or by the workers themselves, as workers’ compensation … frequently does not cover such treatment. This underestimates the true costs of occupational injuries or illnesses.”
Findings specifically related to depression included that most workers’ compensation systems do not acknowledge that condition as being work related “although depression has been linked to a preceding occupational injury and has been found to be a factor influencing workers’ success in returning to work.”
From ‘Depression: The Hidden Cost of Compensable Work Injuries’
Bibliography: Depression: The Hidden Cost of Compensable Work Injuries. (2013). [Blog] LexisNexis® Legal Newsroom Workers Compensation Law. Available at: http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/workers-compensation/b/mental-injuries/archive/2013/01/25/depression-the-hidden-cost-of-compensable-work-injuries.aspx [Accessed Jun. 2014].
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