Mental Health and Self Care In Workers Compensation

Uncategorized Jan 30, 2020

Mental health conditions—also called biopsychosocial or behavioral health—often surprise that very person. Depression can develop over time, and the person is not clued in until they finds himself struggling. As one source explained, the once clear and distinct lines of coping, confidence, and perspective start to become blurred.

In a workers compensation claim, it can become the elephant in the room that nobody wants to touch, talk about, or address. Organizations willing to look at and address these issues can see quicker recoveries. But there are several obstacles to be overcome.

Mental Health stigma, coupled with workers compensation stigma and social prejudice are one of the biggest challenges. People who do realize they have a problem are often hesitant to come forward, fearing negative reactions from their coworkers and others including future employers.

Depictions of people suffering from behavioural health issues in mass media are often negative and for those on workers compensation they are also often relegated to a claim number and de=personalised with it. 

Sadly, despite the positive advocacy around mental health awareness, many employers faced with a workers compensation claim from a psychologically injured worker incorrectly think mental health conditions render a person incompetent and dangerous, that all such conditions are alike and severe, and that treatment causes more harm than good. There appears to have been little cut through with public education campaigns such as R U Ok Day within the workers compensation system. One argument for the failure of such campaigns within this sector is claims costs. Where money is involved in helping an injured workers recover from a psychological injury such as bullying or sexual harassment for example often unleashes further toxic behaviour directed at the psychologically injured.

Avoiding the use of negative words or actions in the workers compensation system can help erase the stigma as does trauma informed education of insurance claims officers. It is rare for someone on workers compensation for a psychological injury not to be impacted by trauma so adopting trauma informed practices makes sense if the intention is to help people get recover and return to work.

Cultural differences also affect the ability to identify and address mental health challenges. The perception of pain varies among cultures, for example. In some communities, the culture mandates being stoic and often avoiding medications that could help.

Perceptions of  insurers, medical providers or employers as authority figures can also be a deterrent to recovery. Power imbalances should be avoided wherever possible. Family dynamics can also play a role, as some cultures rely on all family members to participate when an injured worker is recovering. Claims professionals and treating health professionals need training to understand the cultural issues that may be at play in a claim so they do not miss the opportunity to help the injured worker.

Another hurdle to addressing psychosocial issues in the workers compensation system is the focus on compliance, regulations, and legal management. Concerns about timelines and documentation, sometimes to the extent that the system actually harms mental health and wellbeing rather than helps mental health challenges, even when there is clearly a nonmedical problem.

This often occurs because claims professionals are taught to get each claim to resolution as quickly and easily as possible. Many of these claims professionals currently have no healthcare training and some are simply employed in a customer service capacity.  This can cause tension with Medical providers—especially specialists—who are accustomed to working from tests and images not driven by insurance paperwork which is required to comply with the system.

Mental health issues, when they are present, do not jump off the page. It takes understanding and appropriate and compassionate processes, which have not been the norm in the industry.

"Mental/mental claims" mean a mental stimulus causes a psychological injury. Acceptance of a claim  typically hinges on whether an unusual and extraordinary incident occurred that resulted in a mental disability. Coverage for post-traumatic stress among first responders is another mental health area fraught with difficulties. Trauma informed practices although needed are not widely understood within an insurance system that deals primarily in numbers and data. 

Evidence based self care is a practical tool all injured workers can undertake with appropriate supervision from their GP to bolster mood, motivation and self worth during an extremely difficult life journey. It also puts the injured worker back in the driver's seat in terms of focus on career selfcare and why returning to work is so critical to overall health and wellness.


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