Mental health and workers’ compensation: connecting the dots

Published on Thu, 05/14/2015 - 00:00
istock medium

When it comes to preventing injuries and controlling workers’ compensation insurance costs, most employers are naturally focused on their workers’ physical safety. But how much thought have you given to your employees’ mental and emotional well-being? More importantly, how are those issues impacting your healthcare and workers’ comp costs?

Mental health has become the new frontier in prevention.

Depression and mental health issues are a reality in today’s workplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 9 percent of the U.S. population suffers from depression. That means about 1 in 10 employees suffers some level of depression sometime during his or her work life. That can lead to reduced productivity, more health issues and costs, behavioral issues, increased risk of injury due to inattention, even risk of harm to other staff.

Mental health also plays a key role in post-injury recovery and return to work.

Productivity plays an important role in most employees’ identity and sense of self-worth. When they get injured and can no longer be productive, it’s easy for depression to set in. The longer they’re off work, the more isolated and frustrated they feel, and the easier it is for them to get caught in a downward spiral of disability.

Those challenges are even greater for workers who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses – and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-injury depression treatment costs workers, group health insurance plans, and taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

Changing the mindset about mental illness is the first step toward prevention and effective treatment.

Unfortunately, the stigma attached to mental illness is still prevalent in society and among employers. It’s common for employees who suffer from mental illness to provide false information to their employer about their condition to avoid negative repercussions.

But there’s been an ongoing effort to change the perception, to get people to think of mental illness as just that – an illness, a disease – and treat it as such. Think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. When people begin showing the signs and symptoms of one of those diseases, they don't wait years to treat it; they immediately develop a plan of action to reverse or stop the progression of the disease. So it only seems logical to do the same for those dealing with a potentially serious mental illness.

What can employers do to address mental health issues in the workplace?

You obviously can’t read minds, and you won’t reach everyone who suffers from mental illness. But you should learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and other mental illness in your workers, and make a conscious effort to promote their mental and emotional well-being. That includes making use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), effectively communicating the services those programs can provide, and emphasizing that they can be used in strict confidence like any other healthcare service. Although statistics about the performance of EAPs are limited, studies suggest they can reduce disability, medical, pharmacy, and workers’ compensation costs.

Employers can also take part in Mental Health Month, an annual campaign sponsored by Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based non-profit dedicated to mental wellness. This year, May is officially Mental Health Month, so the time to get involved is now. To learn more, check out the MHA website and these resources:

·         Partnership for Workplace Mental Health

·         Preventing Needless Work Disability by Helping People Stay Employed

As an employer, you have a vital role to play in fostering workplace mental well-being and helping to change the cultural mindset about mental illness, not only for your general work population, but especially for employees who are recovering from a work injury.

For more ways to control your workers’ compensation insurance costs, contact the business insurance experts at Heffernan Insurance Brokers.