October 10th was Mental Health Day and I completely missed it. I am so bummed. I didn’t even get the decorations out in time this year. It’s ok, though. We’re in workers’ comp, and mental health is something we routinely overlook.

Nancy Grover wrote a great article last week regarding Mental Health Day and the impact mental health problems can have on the workplace. She writes that, “Depression is … among the most expensive health conditions that affect workers, in terms of workers’ compensation, absenteeism, and presenteeism.” Her article does a great job of outlining how depression and other mental health concerns, left unchecked, can dramatically affect an employer’s operation and increase their expenses. What she didn’t touch on, however, is how depression and other mental health concerns can impact an injured worker and their ongoing claim.

Post injury depression, sometimes referred to as consequential depression, affects many workers who have been left idle by a workplace injury. Studies have shown that it not only affects the quality of their life, it impacts the rate at which they heal and slows the rate of return to function. In short, depression lengthens claim duration and increases cost. 

God knows, employers don’t want to “pay for psych;” but they pay for it every single day in the form of other claim expenses. 

study conducted a few years ago by Toronto based Institute for Work & Health, a not-for-profit research organization, found that:

About half of workers without a diagnosis of depression in the year before a work-related injury may feel depressed at some point during the year after their injury, and one in four may feel depressed at the one-year mark. Importantly, symptoms of depression are common among those who are not working one year after their injury, or who try to go back to work but are unable to continue.

Among other things, they found that:

Frequent symptoms of depression were more common among participants who were having trouble returning to work. Among workers in our study who reported feeling depressed at 1 month, 6 months and 12 months after the injury, only 10% were able to return to work and stay at work. The remaining 90% either had never made a return-to-work attempt or had tried to return to work but had at least one recurrence of work absence.

The study showed that about half of workers who had not returned to work 12 months after their injury reported frequent symptoms of depression. Among those who had returned to work at the 12-month mark, only 20% reported frequent symptoms of depression at the same point.

Now, to many the question for this will be a “chicken or the egg” style comparison. Is the depression a result of an inability to return, or did the depression contribute to the failure to properly recover? This study addresses that, by monitoring depression rates at the 1, 6 and 12 month points, and indicates what many of us instinctually know; depression left unaddressed has a significant chance of torpedoing a positive outcome.

As my friend Mark Pew likes to say, what goes on between the ears of an injured worker is as important as what happens in the workplace.

And generally speaking, the workers’ compensation industry has been very slow to pick up on that. It is unfortunate, as the tab it creates, both in dollars and lost productivity is huge. What we need to realize going forward is that, for workers’ comp, every day should be Mental Health Day. We just need to stop missing it.

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