Unfortunately, the workplace is often the source of not only physical but psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, insomnia, depression and emotional distress. Treatment for mental health injuries can be extensive and expensive, requiring many hours of therapy and medication in certain cases.
Mental health statistics
Many people in the U.S. struggle with mental health issues, and the number of people whose conditions stem from their jobs continues to grow. Studies have shown that first responders such as firefighters, police officers and paramedics have a rate of PTSD as high as 32 percent, which is in line with veterans who’ve experienced active combat situations.
First responders are exposed to potentially traumatic events repeatedly while on the job. For example, LEOs, EMT/ paramedics, and FFs are exposed to death, serious injury, and violence at significantly higher rates than most civilian professionals. 2–4 Given the high frequency and severity of traumatic exposures, it is not surprising that first responders are at an elevated risk for developing PTSD.
In addition to PTSD, workers in these and other types of jobs have reported an increase in anxiety and depression in recent years.
Common work causes of mental health issues
Sometimes, people can develop a mental health condition as a direct response to the regular stress of their jobs. For example, first responders commonly battle PTSD, anxiety and even depression because of the trauma they experience at work on a daily basis. However, those in other professions and industries can also develop these conditions for a number of reasons, including:
- A hostile work environment that includes bullying, harassment or discrimination
- Poor employee-management communication
- Limited employee participation in decision making
- Long or inflexible work hours
- Low wages
- Excessive workloads
- Lack of support from management
Common work-related mental health issues
Below are some of the most common mental health issues experienced by workers in the U.S.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD has become one of the most common mental health issues. It can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a highly traumatic event. A serious car accident, assault, natural disaster, active combat or even the death of a loved one can trigger the symptoms of this condition.
A person with PTSD may experience flashbacks, in which they mentally relive their trauma experience over and over in their head. They may also find that their fight-or-flight response takes over even when they’re in no immediate danger. Other symptoms may include extreme anxiety, difficulty sleeping, increased sensitivity and depression.
Many people with PTSD can get better over time with antidepressant medication and therapy.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of adults and teens. It’s a gripping illness that isn’t just about feeling sad for a period of time.
Those who suffer from depression often have trouble functioning normally in their everyday lives. They may lose interest in their relationships, work and hobbies and have a variety of physical problems. Aches and pains, sleep issues, problems with appetite, and feelings of hopelessness, guilt and emptiness are all common. In the worst cases, a person with depression may begin having thoughts of suicide.
Treatment for depression often includes antidepressant medication and therapy.
Anxiety is a mental health condition characterized by extreme and persistent worry. It can result in numerous physical symptoms, including rapid breathing and heart rate, restlessness and sweating. Seemingly normal situations can fill a person with dread and make them feel overwhelmed.
There are different types of anxiety that can affect a person, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves excessive worry about seemingly mundane matters like health, finances, family, work and more. If a person experiences anxiety for at least 6 months, they could be diagnosed with GAD.
- Panic disorder is fairly common and involves panic attacks (sudden onset of intense anxiety that may last for several minutes or more). These attacks present themselves even when there’s no real danger present.
- Phobias affect many people and involve an intense fear of something specific that poses little or no danger.
Anxiety can be treated with anti-anxiety medications and therapy. Natural methods like yoga and meditation have also been shown to help.
When are mental health conditions covered under workers’ comp?
Many workers wonder if treatment for mental health conditions is also covered by workers’ compensation insurance. In certain limited cases, the answer is yes. Although it may be more difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for psychological conditions, it is possible.
Workers’ comp insurance only covers treatment for injuries arising out of the course of employment. In order to prove your workplace was the primary cause of a mental health issue like PTSD or anxiety, you must prove that the condition resulted from activities that occurred during the course of your employment and most likely at your place of employment. This can be exceptionally difficult without the assistance of a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer.
The following are some situations in which you may be able to file a workers’ comp claim and receive benefits for a mental health issue.
Your mental health issue resulted from physical injuries at your job
Workers who suffer both physical and mental harm resulting from a workplace accident may be more likely to receive compensation for the mental health conditions resulting from their physical injuries.
For example, if a piece of factory equipment physically injures a worker and the worker later suffers from PTSD because of the experience, most workers’ comp insurers will cover treatment for the associated mental health condition.
You suffered physical injuries because of a mental health issue caused by your job
Other workers may be able to receive workers’ compensation for a mental health issue if they can prove they suffered physical symptoms as a result of the mental condition caused by a work-related event.
For example, if a worker can demonstrate abnormal working conditions caused work-related stress that resulted in a heart attack or other physical problems, they may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits. To be eligible for the benefits, a worker must establish a direct link between the physical condition and mental issue.
What if you experience a mental health issue that’s unrelated to a physical injury?
When a worker suffers only mental harm as a result of a workplace situation, it becomes much more difficult to prove entitlement to workers’ comp benefits. Workers generally need to prove the workplace stress was so extreme that it directly caused mental trauma. This would involve extraordinary workplace stress such as witnessing a horrific event, being a victim of or witness to workplace violence, or being robbed at gunpoint.
Receiving compensation for mental injuries
Workers’ compensation insurance companies may try to limit the amount and duration of compensation benefits for mental injuries on the basis that these types of injuries are temporary or “fixable.”
Although some severe mental impairments prevent workers from ever returning to work, workers are rarely awarded permanent disability for mental health conditions due to the difficulty in assessing mental conditions to determine a worker’s permanent disability rating.
Workers’ compensation insurers are more likely to reimburse workers for the cost of medical expenses and temporary wages when workers take short leave periods to address their mental health issues.
PTSD and mental anguish can last months, years, or a lifetime for a person who’s witnessed or experienced trauma. But can you sue for it?
Contact Chappell, Smith & Arden, P.A. for help with your workers’ comp claim
It’s often difficult to get workers’ comp benefits when you’re suffering from a mental health issue related to your work. You need an experienced workers’ comp lawyer who understands workers’ comp laws surrounding mental health and will fight to get you the financial help you rightfully deserve.
If you need help with a workers’ comp case for a mental health issue, contact the experienced workers’ comp attorneys at Chappell, Smith & Arden, P.A. Let us deal with your employer and their insurance company so you can focus on taking care of you. We’ve recovered millions of dollars for injured workers across the state of South Carolina, and we’d love the opportunity to help you, too.