Whether working fifty feet in the air on a construction job or at a cubicle in an office, work-related injuries are an everyday occurrence. Sometimes even the smallest of injuries can cost someone time away from their job. And obviously because of this, we have workers’ compensation systems set in place. These physical injuries, however, are only half the story. A large number of people who are hurt in the workplace go on to suffer mental harm as well.
Depression is a significant – and all too-often ignored – factor in a substantial percentage of work-related injuries. In fact, a recent study by Abay Asfaw, Ph.D. and Kerry Souza, Ph.D, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that workers who suffered an injury are about 45% more likely to be treated for depression. This conclusion was reached after studying nearly 368,000 workers in 2005. And to qualify in the study as experiencing depression, the worker had to be diagnosed with a condition such as episodic mood disorder, affective personality disorder, prolonged depressive reaction, and/or adjustment disorder with depressed mood within three months of the injury.
There are, of course, many factors that play into a person’s mental state when they injure themselves and are unable work. First off, there is the pain of the injury itself and the multiple hospital and doctor visits it might entail because of it. In my October column, I discussed how many people with orthopedic injuries can suffer from PTSD. But there is also the stress of pursuing workers’ compensation benefits which isn’t always easy, and the subsequent stress of financial hardship. Overall, there is a lot of anxiety that comes with being unable to work and the uncertainty of when that return might come.
One of the biggest problems workplace health is still experiencing, however, is the lack of acknowledgement, acceptance and treatment of these mental health issues. The two main reasons for this are cost and social acceptance. In the study previously mentioned, they also looked at treatment cost, both for the employee and the employer. And the findings were that the average cost of outpatient depression treatment was 63% higher for injured workers than it was for non-injured workers. And oftentimes costs are not covered through workers’ compensation. That leaves workers with either the option to pay high out-of-pocket expenses for treatment or to simply ignore the condition altogether.
But it is simply not acceptable to ignore these issues. It is not only unjust, but also unwise from a humanitarian and business perspective. Ultimately, it will cost companies more in the long-run to ignore the mental health of their employees. A great deal of the depression that injured workers are experiencing is preventable if we all start acknowledging that it exists and that it needs to be treated properly.
If you have experienced an injury in the workplace and would like to talk more about it, please contact me at Stephen@PfeifferPhD.com or at my website www.pfeifferphd.com.