By Tom Denberg, MD, Pinnacol Senior Medical Director
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and at Pinnacol Assurance, we believe in the importance of supporting workers’ mental health not only this month but throughout the year. Mental health conditions can arise from and contribute to workers’ compensation injuries and illnesses, making it crucial to support the worker’s needs when supporting their workers’ comp claim.
We believe that supporting workers’ mental health is not only the right thing to do but it's also imperative to running a successful business. Mental health conditions can impact an individual’s ability to work, leading to lost productivity, increased absenteeism and higher workers’ compensation costs. By providing support for mental health, we can help workers get back to work and contribute to a healthy, productive workforce and community.
Mental health and workers’ comp
Mental health challenges, especially depression and anxiety, are common in the general population and among workers in every kind of occupation. Many mental health challenges preexist any job-related injuries or illnesses and can sometimes contribute to them. Injuries at work can also exacerbate pre existing mental health conditions. They may even give rise to these conditions for the first time as patients struggle with recovery and with the realities of pain, social isolation, disrupted social relationships, fears of job loss and financial concerns. Finally, some job-related injuries are primarily emotional rather than physical in nature, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (sometimes experienced by front-line workers who witness or respond to traumatic events).
The most common mental health issues Pinnacol sees among the workers we cover are depression, anxiety and adjustment disorder (a significant, usually prolonged emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressor in one’s life). We also see PTSD and, occasionally, suicidal ideation, which our team knows to address urgently.
Mental health conditions can complicate recovery from physical injuries or diseases and illnesses like those we see in our workers’ comp system. These conditions can have a negative effect on claims and outcomes in several different ways, such as reduced motivation and engagement, which can lead to slower progress and a longer recovery period. Also, these conditions can create increased pain sensitivity, difficulty with self-care and social isolation, all factors that can impede an efficient and successful recovery.
Pinnacol’s commitment to worker mental health
When supporting workers’ claims, we work to ensure that their mental health needs are addressed alongside their physical conditions and that we are managing how the illness or injury could trigger new mental health challenges. This means providing access to mental health treatment and resources, such as counseling and support groups, as part of their overall treatment plan. By supporting the worker holistically, we can help them get on the path to healing and recovery more quickly and effectively.
We encourage medical providers to screen for mental health conditions in a systematic way when treating injured workers, utilizing the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation medical treatment guidelines for guidance. When warranted, we support in-depth mental health evaluations and treatment provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and licensed practicing clinicians (LPCs). We may also pay for medications that may help treat mental health conditions that are complicating an injured worker’s recovery.
Pinnacol nurses independently identify potential mental health risk factors and create open channels of communication with injured workers. This helps build the workers’ trust and helps them feel comfortable expressing their concerns and fears. Pinnacol nurses may reach out to medical providers to discuss behavioral and emotional concerns related to the worker. Nurses try to understand the treatment plan, which, ideally, will encompass attention not only to the physical injury but also to the mental health problems that complicate recovery from the physical injury. When necessary, Pinnacol nurses have referred injured workers to a crisis line, the ER and/or 911.
At Pinnacol, we believe that supporting workers’ mental health is not only the right thing to do but it's also good for economic vitality. Mental health conditions can impact an individual’s ability to work, leading to lost productivity, increased absenteeism and higher workers’ compensation costs. By providing support for mental health, we can help workers get back to work and contribute to a healthy, productive workforce.
In addition to supporting mental health care for workers, we recently supported the expansion of Colorado workers’ compensation benefits for first responders, recognizing the unique challenges they face in their jobs. These benefits now include coverage for mental health conditions that may arise from their work, such as PTSD and depression.
While there are no single or easy solutions to addressing mental health in our community, we do all we can within our role as a workers’ compensation carrier to recognize and support those we serve.
How employers can help
This Mental Health Awareness Month, we encourage all employers to prioritize their employees’ mental health and well-being. In our experience, by creating a supportive work environment and offering access to mental health resources and benefits, we can help ensure that our workers are healthy, happy and able to thrive both on and off the job.
Create a supportive workplace culture: Employers can foster a supportive workplace culture that encourages employees to speak openly about their mental health challenges. This can be achieved through training and education programs that help employees and managers understand mental health issues, reduce stigma and promote empathy and support.
Provide access to mental health resources: Employers can provide access to mental health resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), counseling services and mental health hotlines. These resources can help employees manage their mental health challenges and provide them with the support they need.
Make reasonable accommodations: Employers can make reasonable accommodations for injured workers with mental health challenges, such as flexible work hours, modified work assignments or reduced workload. These accommodations can help injured workers manage their symptoms and continue to perform their job duties.
Communicate openly: If workers are comfortable with it, employers can communicate openly with injured workers about their mental health challenges and work with them to develop a plan for managing and making accommodations for their symptoms.
At Pinnacol, we know that supporting workers’ mental health is critical for both personal and workplace success. Mental health conditions can impact an individual’s ability to work, leading to lost productivity, increased absenteeism and higher workers’ compensation costs. By providing support for mental health, we can help workers get back to work and contribute to a healthy, productive workforce and community.
Pinnacol Assurance assumes no responsibility for management or control of customer safety activities. Please ensure your business meets the requirements of all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, or ordinances related to workplace safety.