Workers who suffer physical injuries because of a workplace accident are generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to cover the costs of medical treatment and rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, the workplace is often the source of not only physical but psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, insomnia, depression and emotional distress. Treatment for mental health injuries can be extensive and expensive, requiring many hours of therapy and medication in certain cases.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with war veterans. However, PTSD can happen to anyone who has undergone a traumatic event…
Mental health statistics
Many people in the U.S. struggle with mental health issues, and the number of people whose conditions stem from their jobs continues to grow. Studies have shown that first responders such as firefighters, police officers and paramedics have a rate of PTSD as high as 32 percent, which is in line with veterans who’ve experienced active combat situations.
First responders are exposed to potentially traumatic events repeatedly while on the job. For example, LEOs, EMT/ paramedics, and FFs are exposed to death, serious injury, and violence at significantly higher rates than most civilian professionals. 2–4 Given the high frequency and severity of traumatic exposures, it is not surprising that first responders are at an elevated risk for developing PTSD.
Source: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment of Traumatic Stress in First Responders: A Review of Critical Issues
In addition to PTSD, workers in these and other types of jobs have reported an increase in anxiety and depression in recent years.
Common work causes of mental health issues
Sometimes, people can develop a mental health condition as a direct response to the regular stress of their jobs. For example, first responders commonly battle PTSD, anxiety and even depression because of the trauma they experience at work on a daily basis.
However, those in other professions and industries can also develop these conditions for a number of reasons, including:
- A hostile work environment that includes bullying, harassment or discrimination
- Poor employee-management communication
- Limited employee participation in decision making
- Long or inflexible work hours
- Low wages
- Excessive workloads
- Lack of support from management
Common work-related mental health issues
Below are some of the most common mental health issues experienced by workers in the U.S.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD has become one of the most common mental health issues. It can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a highly traumatic event. A serious car accident, assault, natural disaster, active combat or even the death of a loved one can trigger the symptoms of this condition.
A person with PTSD may experience flashbacks, in which they mentally relive their trauma experience over and over in their head. They may also find that their fight-or-flight response takes over even when they’re in no immediate danger. Other symptoms may include extreme anxiety, difficulty sleeping, increased sensitivity and depression.
Many people with PTSD can get better over time with antidepressant medication and therapy.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of adults and teens. It’s a gripping illness that isn’t just about feeling sad for a period of time.
Those who suffer from depression often have trouble functioning normally in their everyday lives. They may lose interest in their relationships, work and hobbies and have a variety of physical problems. Aches and pains, sleep issues, problems with appetite, and feelings of hopelessness, guilt and emptiness are all common. In the worst cases, a person with depression may begin having thoughts of suicide.
Treatment for depression often includes antidepressant medication and therapy.
Anxiety is a mental health condition characterized by extreme and persistent worry. It can result in numerous physical symptoms, including rapid breathing and heart rate, restlessness and sweating. Seemingly normal situations can fill a person with dread and make them feel overwhelmed.
There are different types of anxiety that can affect a person, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves excessive worry about seemingly mundane matters like health, finances, family, work and more. If a person experiences anxiety for at least 6 months, they could be diagnosed with GAD.
- Panic disorder is fairly common and involves panic attacks (sudden onset of intense anxiety that may last for several minutes or more). These attacks present themselves even when there’s no real danger present.
- Phobias affect many people and involve an intense fear of something specific that poses little or no danger.
Anxiety can be treated with anti-anxiety medications and therapy. Natural methods like yoga and meditation have also been shown to help.
When are mental health conditions covered under workers’ comp?
Many workers wonder if treatment for mental health conditions is also covered by workers’ compensation insurance. In certain limited cases, the answer is yes. Although it may be more difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for psychological conditions, it is possible.
Workers’ comp insurance only covers treatment for injuries arising out of the course of employment. In order to prove your workplace was the primary cause of a mental health issue like PTSD or anxiety, you must prove that the condition resulted from activities that occurred during the course of your employment and most likely at your place of employment. This can be exceptionally difficult without the assistance of a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer.
Get our top tips for how to hire the best workers’ comp attorney for your case.
In addition to proving your mental health issue occurred during the course of your work, you will also need to prove the following:
- The conditions causing stress were extraordinary and unusual in comparison to normal work conditions.
- The emotional injury did not result from standard personnel actions, such as being fired. However, exceptions may be made if such actions were extraordinary and unusual.
First responders, such as police officers, often find it more difficult to collect workers’ compensation for psychological injuries because exposure to traumatic events is considered to be part of their job.
The following are some situations in which you may be able to file a workers’ comp claim and receive benefits for a mental health issue.
Your mental health issue resulted from physical injuries at your job
Workers who suffer both physical and mental harm resulting from a workplace accident may be more likely to receive compensation for the mental health conditions resulting from their physical injuries.
For example, if a piece of factory equipment physically injures a worker and the worker later suffers from PTSD because of the experience, most workers’ comp insurers will cover treatment for the associated mental health condition.
You suffered physical injuries because of a mental health issue caused by your job
Other workers may be able to receive workers’ compensation for a mental health issue if they can prove they suffered physical symptoms as a result of the mental condition caused by a work-related event.
For example, if a worker can demonstrate abnormal working conditions caused work-related stress that resulted in a heart attack or other physical problems, they may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits. To be eligible for the benefits, a worker must establish a direct link between the physical condition and mental issue.
What if you experience a mental health issue that’s unrelated to a physical injury?
When a worker suffers only mental harm as a result of a workplace situation, it becomes much more difficult to prove entitlement to workers’ comp benefits. Workers generally need to prove the workplace stress was so extreme that it directly caused mental trauma. This would involve extraordinary workplace stress such as witnessing a horrific event, being a victim of or witness to workplace violence, or being robbed at gunpoint.
Why can it be difficult to prove mental health issues are work-related?
Mental health issues can affect your ability to work effectively, but it can often be difficult to prove that the problem is work-related.
Below are just some of the factors that make it complicated to prove mental health issues are directly caused by a job.
Lack of concrete evidence
Mental health problems can be challenging to diagnose. A doctor will usually start by asking about your symptoms and behavior, but this can take time and may not result in a definitive diagnosis of depression or anxiety.
Some people will also find that their doctor has little knowledge or experience with mental health problems, which makes getting a diagnosis a more complicated process.
Additionally, since mental health issues are often not visible and can’t be identified through a simple blood test or X-ray like many other diseases, they can be challenging to prove and diagnose.
Outside stressors and pre-existing conditions
Life is full of stressors, and this makes it considerably more difficult to tie a mental health issue directly to your job, particularly if you have any pre-existing mental health issues.
Although your job may exacerbate your symptoms, it’s often a complicated process to prove that your work is the precipitating factor—rather than something happening at home or elsewhere.
Limited understanding of mental health
Historically, mental health issues haven’t been studied as much as other diseases and disorders in the medical community, making them far less understood. As a result, we still don’t have a good understanding of mental health issues in general, let alone how a work environment can contribute to or cause these issues.
Lack of acceptance around mental health issues
Mental health conditions are often misunderstood. Some people believe that those with mental health issues like depression or anxiety should be able to just snap out of it. Others may believe that people with these conditions are faking them or exaggerating their symptoms to avoid working.
These misconceptions can make talking about mental health issues significantly more challenging. Workers suffering from mental health issues might feel worried about being discriminated against or losing their job, and they might also fear what other people will think of them if they open up about their struggles.
Receiving compensation for mental injuries caused by work
Workers’ compensation insurance companies may try to limit the amount and duration of compensation benefits for mental injuries on the basis that these types of injuries are temporary or “fixable.”
Although some severe mental impairments prevent workers from ever returning to work, workers are rarely awarded permanent disability for mental health conditions due to the difficulty in assessing mental conditions to determine a worker’s permanent disability rating.
Workers’ compensation insurers are more likely to reimburse workers for the cost of medical expenses and temporary wages when workers take short leave periods to address their mental health issues.
PTSD and mental anguish can last months, years, or a lifetime for a person who’s witnessed or experienced trauma. But can you sue for it?
What workers’ comp benefits are available for injured workers?
- Medical expenses. Workers’ comp covers all necessary doctor-approved medical expenses. For mental health issues like PTSD, this could include medications, biofeedback, therapy, doctor appointments and hospital stays.
- Lost wages. Workers are entitled to a portion of their lost wages while they’re unable to work due to a work-related injury or illness, which is typically two-thirds of their average weekly wages.
- Death benefits. The surviving spouse and dependents of a worker who pass away due to a workplace accident or illness are entitled to receive death benefits. These benefits consist of a lump sum payment for funeral expenses and ongoing financial support for the surviving family, subject to eligibility requirements and limitations.
Learn about the 3 types of workers’ comp benefits South Carolina workers are entitled to after an injury and how to get maximum compensation.
What steps do I need to take to get workers’ comp for a mental health issue?
In South Carolina, most employers with 4 or more employees are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance to employees in case of a work injury.
Some injuries are physical (such as a broken bone after a slip-and-fall accident) and can be easily diagnosed and tied to work accidents.
However, mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety can sometimes be more difficult to diagnose and prove that they’re caused by your job.
If you have a mental health issue that you believe is work-related, you should take the following steps to be eligible for workers’ comp benefits:
- Seek medical attention. The first step to getting workers’ compensation benefits is to get treated by a doctor. Medical documentation from a doctor, including a diagnosis, is essential to proving that you have a mental health issue and that it’s related to your job.
- Notify your employer. Make sure that your employer has been made aware of the situation. South Carolina law requires you to notify your employer in writing within 90 days of your injury or illness or the discovery of your injury or illness.
- Employer files a claim. Once you notify your employer, they have to file a claim with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. You should receive written notice from the commission as well as instructions on how to proceed.
- Wait for a decision on your claim. Your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer will either accept or deny your claim.
- Contact an attorney. If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision at a hearing before a workers’ compensation commissioner. We highly recommend that you contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you with the process to ensure all procedures are followed and your rights are protected.
Learn which pre-existing conditions may be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, and find out how to receive benefits if you’re affected.
What is the time limit for filing a workers’ comp claim for a mental health issue?
The statute of limitations is the legal time limit you have to file a claim. In South Carolina, the statute of limitations for workers’ comp is 2 years from the date of your injury or illness (or from when you discovered your injury or illness). In most cases, if you fail to file a claim within this timeframe, you won’t be able to recover any compensation.
Contact Chappell, Chappell and Newman for help with your workers’ comp claim
It’s often difficult to get workers’ comp benefits when you’re suffering from a mental health issue related to your work. You need an experienced workers’ comp lawyer who understands workers’ comp laws surrounding mental health and will fight to get you the financial help you rightfully deserve.
If you need help with a workers’ comp case for a mental health issue, contact the experienced workers’ comp attorneys at Chappell, Chappell and Newman Let us deal with your employer and their insurance company so you can focus on taking care of you. We’ve recovered millions of dollars for injured workers across the state of South Carolina, and we’d love the opportunity to help you, too.