Preventing depression among injured workers

Injured workers who are off work due to an injury may also struggle with another health issue – depression.

study by the Institute for Work and Health of workers who missed at least five days of work due to work-related musculoskeletal injuries showed that half frequently felt symptoms of depression in the year following their injuries.

Of employees who were off work for at least five days, almost 10 percent were diagnosed with depression at some point during 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,” according to study author Nancy Carnide.

Reasons why employees may become depressed

For many employees, work is more than just a paycheck. It’s a place where they are socially connected and a source of identity.

Take that away, and it’s easy to get to an emotionally dark place, especially when they’re facing struggles in other areas of their lives as well.

Employees who are off work due to injuries may struggle with:

  • Social isolation
  • Challenges performing everyday tasks like bathing or lifting things
  • Relationship stress
  • Missing out on gatherings with family or friends
  • Guilt or shame over others having to take on more work during their recovery
  • Anxiety over losing their job or future earning potential
  • Financial stress
  • Pre-existing mental health issues
  • Chronic pain

Being off work can actually make things worse because they may have fewer distractions and more time to ruminate on these struggles.

5 steps to reduce the risk of post-injury depression

Depression after workplace injury can prolong a workers’ comp claim and delay return-to-work. In some cases, post-injury depression may even be compensable as part of the workers’ compensation claim, but it depends a lot on the specific facts of each case.

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, employees 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 employer cares about them and wants 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 employees
    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.

Recovering from a work injury is difficult enough without the added pain of depression. Do everything you can as an employer to reduce the risk and help injured employees return to health and productivity.


  • 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.

  • I have been out of work for almost 6 months and I have lost a lot bc of pay.. I’m having a lot of relationship problems and I think I may be seeping into depression. What should I do?

  • If your employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP) that would be a good place to start. Otherwise, there may be mental health resources available in your community that you can access. If you do not have access to an EAP, your case manager may be able to help you find resources. Please don’t hesitate to ask about this.

  • I got hurt on the job. Wrote dates and times down when the injury happened. Was supposed to fill out an injury report and they couldn’t find one for me to fill out. Was supposed to get a drug test and they didn’t schedule one for me. I went to my Doctor and they got me started on physical therapy. Physical therapy needed a workman’s comp # so they can bill them not my insurance. It has been a month now since the injury. I called to get a workman’s comp # and they had reported it or get it started. So for the last couple weeks I have been depressed, I can’t concentrate, I hurt, have headaches everyday. So from going through all that I resigned my job.

  • i fell and broke hip at work had totoal hip replacement. not able to work can work comp allow for mental health due to this injury? In the state of Arizona

  • Why doesn’t the workers comp adjusters and lawyers, and Doctors, take responsibility into not making an injured workers mental health worse then it was before there injury, why are they allowed do destroy the mental health of the employee’s who are hurt on the job, by the choices and actions they take to destroy the lives of workers injured on the job, as if the injured workers aren’t struggling enough, and then have to go through the mentally debilitating abuse by the work comp system?

  • I’m been injury for the past 3 years and be out of work for a mont . Any of my managers called me at all . I’m been affected economically and emotionally feel along and lost

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