Consequential depression: When a work injury leads to mental health issues

Unfortunately, workers who have lost time due to an injury may be more susceptible to another health issue – depression.

Post-injury depression, also called consequential depression, may be compensable as part of a workers’ comp claim.

In these claims, sometimes the treatment, medication and wage loss due to the depression can even add up to more than the original injury.

There’s no one reason why consequential depression is becoming more common, but some likely contributing factors are the decreasing stigma of mental health conditions and the overall increase in depression diagnoses. Injured workers may be anxious about whether they’ll have a job to return to after they recover.

A recent study by the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto found a connection between workers’ depression and how quickly they were able to return to work.

The workers’ ability to return to work in a reasonable timeframe factored into their mental health.

The researchers measured workers’ symptoms of depression at different intervals after a workplace injury.

Of injured workers who were off work for at least five days, almost 10 percent were diagnosed with depression in the 12 months following the injury. The workers’ ability to return to work in a reasonable timeframe factored into their mental health.

“Frequent symptoms of depression were more common among participants who were having trouble returning to work,” study author Nancy Carnide reported.

These findings were published in the article “Feelings of Depression after a Physical Work Injury”  in the journal Visions.

5 steps to reduce the risk of post-injury depression

Consequential depression because of a workplace injury can prolong a workers’ comp claim and delay the return to work. Post-injury depression isn’t always preventable, but employers can take steps to lower the risk:

1. Have a strong return-to-work program

Bringing employees back to work not only reassures them that their future employment is secure, but also gives them a way to feel productive.

The company can provide a positive, supportive environment upon employees’ return even if they have significant work restrictions. It’s important to manage the expectations of supervisors and coworkers so the injured employees aren’t made to feel guilty that they can’t yet work at full capacity.

2. Consider your employees’ mental health

Offer an employee assistance program and make sure employees know it’s there to help them if they’re having struggles in their personal lives. Oftentimes, injured workers who experience consequential depression had pre-existing depression that was either undiagnosed or diagnosed but untreated.

Encouraging employees to address any mental health conditions before an injury occurs is not only the right thing to do, but can also stave off lengthy and costly complications in the event of an injury.

3. Encourage good relationships between supervisors and employees

When employees are injured at work, knowing their employers care about them and want them to return can go a long way in preventing anxiety. That said, employees might be suspect of their supervisors’ sincerity if the leaders never seemed to care about their well-being in the past.

4. Stay in contact with injured workers

If employees are off work due to an injury, be sure to stay in contact with them to reassure them that you care about them and that there will be a job for them when they’re medically able.

5. Foster a positive work environment

Make sure employees feel appreciated. Hold all-employee parties or find other ways to have fun and show employees you appreciate their work. Employees who like their jobs will be much more motivated to return to work as soon as they are able.

With these five steps, employers can reduce the risk of an employee experiencing more lost time than necessary due to post-injury depression.


  • My work has done nothing of these things mentioned and I have been off for a year. I am so depressed and feel tremendous fear about going back to work. I don’t feel safe there.

  • I am in the same position. Been off of work for over a year, employer did nothing and didn’t even want to accommodate me with my permanent injuries. Now I have been diagnosed with Depression and am receiving workers’ compensation benefits for this. I will be starting counselling sessions to assist with the depression but do not have any idea how long it will last. I am in constant pain due to my permanent injury which happened at work, and now the addition of depression. The whole thing is not fair that employers treat their employees like this. I am a long term employee of over 12 years and was a very productive employee. But things change when an employee hurts themselves at work unfortunately.

  • I’m concerned to read this. Could you try talking with your employer or claims representative? Another option would be to use your employee assistance program, if one is available. Lastly, you could reach out to your state’s department of labor for advice.

  • feeling this a lot right now. lost a job i worked so hard for to get. had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to a chemical used in the workplace. employer can’t relocate me because all their locations use the chemical i’m allergic to. so i’ve been laid off. the chemical is somewhat common so it’s terrifying thinking about working in a similar environment ever again. but i don’t know what i’m supposed to do anymore.

  • As a EMT working for a private company, my ambulance was T-boned as a result of my careless driver. I was standing in the back doing my job when we were hit at 45mph. I have 6 herniated disks, nerve damage in my left arm and have recieved ZERO calls from my company other than them letting me know they were cancelling my health insurance. It took 9 months just to get all 3 MRI’s of my spine. I have been out of work for 14 months and due to a psyche evaul that diagnosed me with Major Depression Disorder occuring feom this accident the work comp. MD now refuses to do surgery. I am bombarded with weekly emails since I am still an “official” employee about what a strong family based company my employer is. My family is now bankrupt and my credit ruined, living off $500 a week from workers comp. The laws are made to protect the insurance carrier and the company that pays them, not the employee, thier health or mental wellness, PERIOD.

  • Only if any of this would have happened. My employer has not once reached out to me or tried to accommodate me in any way! I got hurt 2/15 not one call , not one card in fact when I called to ask if they had anything for me I was told. I needed to communicate with them through my nurse case manager! I have PCS and back and neck injuries and now major depressive disorder. I just had to apply for welfare because my benefits were cut off after 6 months. The damage is done I would never trust them again.

  • I had my workmans comp injury almost 3 years ago! I have had continued problems with L and I. I need another surgery. I have been depressed for over a year. I was advised to see someone by my attorney. I have been seeing a therapist thru my husbands employer. Now my attorney said I needed to see a psychiatrist!! Which I have to pay for on my own to add it to my claim. Seriously? My pcp did prescribe antidepressants. So stressed!!!

  • Practice what you preach you are my wk-comp insurer. After occupational injury & disease while waiting for 14.5 months for my 1st wk -comp check, I have been diagnosed w/consequential depression. THANKS GUY’S-NOT

  • I’m concerned to hear you had a bad experience working with us. I would like the chance to learn more about what happened. Please email me at so that I can follow up.

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