It appears that unaddressed mental and behavioral health issues might delay a worker’s recovery and return to work following an on-the-job injury. In a recent white paper from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), they examine the correlation between a worker’s mental health and the time it takes to recover from a physical workplace injury.
The authors of the white paper interviewed worker’s compensation stakeholders, including employers, medical providers, labor advocates and insurers. It also draws information from a review of select occupational medical treatment guideline recommendations as well as a literature review of studies focused on behavioral health services provided in workers’ compensation systems.
The report was able to identify mental and behavioral health risk factors that could inhibit timely recovery. Common inhibitors were:
- Poor recovery expectations after injury
- Fear of pain or re-injury
- Perceived injustice
- Job dissatisfaction
- Low motivation
- Lack of family and social support
Poor recovery can be a self-fulfilling prophecy where doubts about healing slow or halt the process for some employees. When coupled with the fear of pain or re-injury, chronic pain can be inescapable. Additional chronic illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders can also exacerbate the situation. Some clinical studies have revealed that up to 60-85% of patients who experience chronic pain are also affected by severe depression. Depression and stress disorders, whether pre-existing or developed after a workplace injury, can contribute to chronic pain, which can slow or obscure recovery.
The paper describes how tools for early screening, like certain questionnaires, can be used by workers’ compensation stakeholders to identify psychosocial risk factors so injured workers can get treatment or other forms of assistance. Assistance measures may include education, teaching strategies for self-management, or referral to behavioral health specialists.
“The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of behavioral health,” WCRI President and CEO John Ruser said in a press release. “In particular, workers’ compensation stakeholders recognize that unaddressed behavioral health issues might delay a worker’s recovery and return to work and increase medical costs. This study helps to identify behavioral health issues in workers’ compensation and create a common language and understanding.”
The full white paper can be found at https://www.wcrinet.org/reports/a-primer-on-behavioral-health-care-in-workers-compensation. An access fee is required for non-members.