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.

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