At the 2020 WCRI Annual Issues & Research Conference, a panel discussed the importance of mental health for injured workers. The speakers were:
- Dr Leslie Boden – BU School of Public Health
- Francis Callahan, Jr – MA Building Trades Council
- Mary Christiansen – Southern California Edison
- Dr Kenneth Larsen – New England Baptist Hospital
- Dr Randall Lea -WCRI, moderator
Dr Boden started by presenting results from a study done in New Mexico on injured worker mortality. The 19-year study of over 100,000 workers linked data from workers’ compensation, social security, and the national death index. The study showed showed a higher death rate for people who had suffered a lost-time work injury vs those who only had a medical only workers compensation claim. In particular, the rate of drug related and suicide deaths were higher. Another study in West Virginia also showed an increase in drug related and suicide deaths for injured workers.
The panel discussed how they are seeing these trends translate into the workplace. For example, the construction industry is very physical work and is very male dominated. Workers suffer significant wage loss if they are out due to a workplace injury so workers will medicate with opioids so they can remain on the job. This has led to higher opioid addiction rates than other industries. On the mental health side, there is significant stigma in this industry’s culture associated with mental health. Because of this, there is a hesitancy to pursue treatment which can lead to higher suicide rates. Construction industry unions are working to promote mental health programs to their members and to remove the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
Employers with an EAP already have access to mental health services through this program. It’s important for employers to engage these services on workers’ compensation claims. Too often, the workers’ compensation claims handler is not aware of the EAP and the services available so it falls on the employer to ensure there is a seamless handoff between their workers’ compensation and non-occ benefit programs. From the employer standpoint they have noticed an overall decrease in workers compensation claims costs since they instituted the program to engage their EAP on their claims.
Among the challenges of mental health treatment in workers’ compensation include lack of medical providers and treatment guidelines. There is a fear that if you allow mental health treatment you will open a door that allows unrelated conditions into the claim. The reality is, there is no such things as a completely unrelated conditions when it comes to a workers’ recovery from a workplace injury. If you fail to address issues such as mental health, it will ultimately impact the outcomes on the claim.