Mind-Body Connection: Exploring the Link Between Mental Health and Workplace Injuries
August 22, 2022 · 7 min read
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Fractures, falls, broken bones, concussions — these are just a handful of the terms that may come to mind with workplace injury. These physical manifestations are often immediate and noticeable — but what happens to the mind when the body’s capacity to function is changed? In this article, we’ll explore the link between physical injuries and mental health; the science behind the connection, the prevalence of the problem, and how you can get help when those storm clouds roll in.
A common connection
Multiple studies back up the connection between physical injury and mental health. According to this U.S.-based study, one in three people will experience major depression or PTSD after a traumatic injury. The risk increases in people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.
The prevalence of depression in those suffering from injury is also proven to impact recovery time. In a U.K. study, a sample of injured adults were followed up at one, two, four, and 12 months post-injury to assess their mental health concerns. The study revealed that high levels of depression scores and increasing levels of pain at month one were associated with significantly reduced odds of recovery at 12 months.
Poor mental health also predicts injury outcomes such as return to work, and physical function and pain. Patients who suffered depression and PTSD had a poorer quality of well-being — both soon after injury, and at six months post-injury,. This manifested as issues with mobility, physical and social activity as measured by the Quality of Well-Being Scale.
The science of sadness
There are a variety of reasons why workplace injuries have such a significant impact on mental health. The social, emotional, and financial ramifications of physical injury can be profound, regardless of the scale of damage. Let’s explore some reasons why workplace injuries are so closely linked to mental distress.
Social and emotional impacts
First and foremost, a workplace injury is a form of trauma — especially if you have been subject to a life-threatening situation, a drawn-out recovery, and/or significant physical pain. Regardless of the scale of your injury, being harmed at your workplace can often cause a loss of one’s sense of self, security, and certainty. The removal of these basic social structures naturally has dire consequences for one’s mental health.
In addition to the loss of autonomy, victims of workplace injuries can often feel that their sense of community and connection has been compromised. Some of our most reliable and fulfilling relationships are fostered at work, so deprivation from these interactions can cause you to feel isolated and replaceable. After all, things at your workplace will continue to go on without you — so it’s only natural to worry about your relevance.
From the cost of treatment to the loss of income, there’s no doubt that financial insecurity following a workplace injury is a large stressor. Being under financial stress can put you at risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and behavioral disorders like substance abuse and alcohol addiction.
The physical symptoms of your workplace injury are likely relatively straightforward for a medical professional to diagnose and treat — but the invisible nature of mental health issues can be trickier. Here are some of the most common clinical diagnoses following a workplace injury.
It’s natural to feel down from time to time, especially following a workplace injury — but depression is a serious mental illness that can manifest as the result of trauma. This condition is often compounded by being unable to return to work either permanently or indefinitely. Some symptoms of depression include:
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are amongst the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting almost a fifth of the population. Traumatic workplace incidents can lead victims to develop clinical anxiety issues. Some common early-onset symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
Exaggerated startle reflex
When left untreated, chronic anxiety can begin to impact other aspects of your health and lead to comorbidity. These additional concerns may include:
When you experience a traumatic event such as a workplace injury, the anguish can have a serious and lasting effect on your mental health. The symptoms of PTSD following a workplace injury can include:
Being startled easily
Remember that self-diagnosis or using “Dr. Google” can often do more harm than good. If you are concerned about your mental health or if any of the above conditions resonate with you, make an appointment with your healthcare provider for assistance.
The statistics surrounding the state of mental health care in America are damning—according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), more than half of people suffering from mental illness don’t seek treatment for fear of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. While talking about mental health has become less stigmatized over the past decade, many still struggle to verbalize and seek help for their concerns.
When you explore mental health stigma through a workplace lens, evidence repeats itself. A poll from the APA revealed that half of the workers were concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs. On top of that, more than one in three people were concerned about retaliation or being fired if they sought mental health care. This fear translates to communication about mental health issues, with only about one in five workers feeling completely comfortable talking about mental health issues. The poll found that millennials were almost twice as likely as baby boomers to be comfortable (62% vs. 32%) discussing their mental health.
As you can see, you’re certainly not alone if you feel hesitant about discussing your mental health with your employer. However, there is empowerment in knowledge and knowing your rights regarding workers’ compensation. Having some of the emotional and financial uncertainty alleviated can have a positive impact on your recovery.
Where’s your head at?
If you feel like you may be struggling with your mental health following a workplace injury, there are a number of recovery strategies available.
Discuss pain management with your doctor: Arm yourself with strategies that can calm your mind and help to ease your physical discomfort. Things like yoga, acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, exercise, and massage are great natural remedies that also benefit your mind-body connection. Just be sure to check with your doctor that any movement-based activities are okay for your condition.
Taking care of your body and mind: The American Psychiatric Association has a range of self-care tips for curbing mental health turmoil after a traumatic event. Some of the most relevant for workplace injuries include eating well and staying hydrated, not using alcohol and other substances to curb mental distress, engaging in fun and restorative activities, plus staying informed and empowered about your condition and recovery trajectory.
Rest and recover: Pushing yourself too hard and too fast can hinder your recovery. Take time to heal physically and be patient with your body and mind. We’ve established that feeling sad or frustrated in the wake of a workplace injury is extremely common, so try not to be hard on yourself.
Get legal help: Engaging the help of a legal service that specializes in workers’ compensation can help to alleviate some of the stress surrounding your situation. Knowing you have access to social and financial recovery resources can take a huge weight off your shoulders.
Remember, there is professional help available if you are experiencing any form of mental distress. Reach out to your healthcare provider to discuss your options if self-managed strategies are not improving your state of mind. Early intervention can be your greatest asset when it comes to coping with mental health trouble, so don’t minimize or deny your discomfort.
Looking after yourself
Opening up about mental health issues while recovering from a physical injury is a lot to cope with. When you are navigating this extremely vulnerable time, it’s important to know there are people on your side to support you. The last thing you want is to add financial stress or impersonal lawyers to the mix — which is where Atticus comes in.
Atticus is an online service that provides free, expert advice on the vast topic of varying workplace injury situations. The website can also connect you directly to lawyers who are sensitive to the nuances of mental health issues arising from workplace injuries. Whether you’re curious about your rights regarding workers’ compensation or are looking to lodge a claim, Atticus is the perfect place to find everything you need.
The workers’ comp process starts when you report your work injury or illness to your employer. Then you have to file a claim within a certain amount of time so you can qualify for weekly payments and reimbursement of your medical bills while you recover.
Can I get workers’ comp if the injury was my fault?
Yes. You can qualify for workers’ comp no matter whose fault the injury or illness was, as long as it happened while you were doing your job. Our guide to qualifying accidents and injuries will help you see if you could get coverage.
Do all workers qualify for workers’ comp?
You're probably eligible for workers’ comp if your employer withholds taxes from your paychecks. Independent contractors don’t usually qualify, but states may offer coverage to certain contractors, volunteers, or seasonal workers. Check with your state workers’ comp board to see exactly who qualifies in your area.
Not everyone needs to work with a lawyer, but a workers’ comp lawyer can especially help if your claim is denied, if you get a settlement offer, or even if your claim just lasts for more than a few months. Here are some situations when a lawyer can help you.
No, workers’ comp benefits aren’t taxable. That's true whether you get weekly payments, a lump-sum settlement, or a settlement with a structured payment plan.
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Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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