Last week, during a presentation at the annual conference of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC), there was some spirited discussion between the panel and attendees. The session, “The Mind is Key”, was designed to help people understand and hear about effective psychological interventions, as well as how they are being used on the path to recovery.
One of the attendees, when asking a question about identifying psych issues arising out of the claim versus those that existed prior, said, “I don’t want to pay for any Mommy issues.” It was an indelicate reference to the pitfalls of psychosocial concerns, where an injured workers’ previous life experiences and viewpoints can greatly affect the outcome of a more recent injury. A friend of mine, a member of an international comp organization, shrugged and said to me, “What’s the difference?”
He was right. Whether we care to admit it or not, the workers’ compensation industry already pays for so called “Mommy issues”. The difference, I suppose, is that most of us just don’t know it.
(I recognize that referencing mental health concerns as simply “Mommy Issues” is highly uncomfortable – even for a politically incorrect SOB such as myself. However, I find the use of the phrase highly instructive and somewhat more impactful, so we are sticking with it).
There is an increasing body of evidence that a person’s previous life experiences can have dramatic impact on the outcome of an injury. Early physical or mental trauma, including sexual abuse, can set the stage for response to stressful incidents far into the future. It is often the reason that two people, with identical physical injuries, can have such completely different results. One may recover completely, while the other travels down a snake hole of despair, adding a multitude of elements and challenges to the claim.
The comment, “I don’t want to pay for any Mommy issues”, is emblematic of our continuing lack of appreciation for the impact that these pre-existing conditions present. The harsh reality is that when an employee is hired, they can come with a full set of baggage. It is, at this point, part of who they are; and who they are will help define how they respond to a workplace injury. The sooner we understand that we hired the “whole person” (baggage and all), the better we can learn to respond to whatever is driving their reactions to that event.
This is not an isolated concern. A Congressional Research Service Report last year concluded that almost 1 out of 4 people in the U.S. has a mental health condition. Almost 6% have what is considered a “severe” mental health condition. A 2016 Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study found that psychosocial co-morbidities were listed as the No. 1 obstacle to achieving desired claim outcomes.
That means the odds of your claim being affected negatively are higher than we’d care to admit. True, many of the psychosocial issues that present themselves as challenges are a result of the injury, but they can and will be amplified by prior life experiences. The sooner we understand that Mommy issues are an integral part of the claim, the sooner (and more effectively) we can treat the underlying conditions that are otherwise taking the person down a road of failed recovery.
You cannot separate the foundational life experience from the person. They are one and the same. When dealing with a workplace injury and working toward recovery, we cannot sort out the mental processes into two separate buckets. Any Mommy issues present will be part of the mix, and to think that we won’t pay for them is simply an act of self-delusion.
I suppose a failure to comprehend that could be our own Mommy issue to contend with.