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.

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