Research pinpoints common link between workplace injuries and depression in workers comp cases

By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

Last week, Governor Brown both signed and vetoed several new pieces of California workers compensation legislation, bringing much media attention to the matter of work comp costs and to statewide efforts to prevent abuses within the system. According to commentators quoted in the

Insurance Journal

, the newly enacted laws are designed to keep costs steady and “create greater efficiencies” to benefit workers and employers alike. However, while such legislative action is a critical component of an equitable workers comp system for both California business owners and their employees, it is also only part of a much larger picture – one that relies as much on comprehensive injury analysis and thorough diagnoses and treatment as it does on system-wide management of rules and regulations.

In any workers compensation injury case, each employee’s medical and psychological evaluation is vital to determining the validity and breadth of their compensation claim – and nowhere is this more pertinent (or more complex) than in cases where on-the-job injuries are likely to incur psychological trauma as well. Various study results examining leading work-related disabilities -- such as musculoskeletal disorders and orthopaedic injuries – reveal a very high likelihood that patients will experience psychological distress in the form of depressive disorders as a result of their physical injuries. In one study published in the

Annals of General Psychiatry

, researchers found a high incidence of depression in orthopaedic outpatients, both as a result of socio-economic circumstances and the nature of bone pathology related to their disabilities. In addition, Australian researchers pinpointed a similar tendency towards anxiety and depression in patients with work-related musculoskeletal disorders – leading them to conclude that, as noted in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the occupational rehabilitation needs of such patients may be underestimated on a frequent basis.

Qualified medical evaluations provide the key to fair claims processing and full employee rehabilitation

When an individual sustains a musculoskeletal or orthopaedic injury on the job, physical rehabilitation is of course an essential step in helping them prepare to return to work. However, if the psychological ramifications of those injuries are not taken into account during an initial medical examination, such individuals may fail to receive comprehensive care – and subsequently, find themselves struggling to perform at their former level even after considerable treatment and physical therapy.

As with any psychological work-related injury, depression or anxiety as a side-effect of physical trauma may be difficult to detect – and in some cases, such claims may result in accusations or perpetration of work comp fraud. Only a trained and experienced Qualified Medical Evaluator can determine the full breadth of a claimant’s alleged psychological injury: to learn more, visit