By Teresa Williams, MSW, LCSW, Managing Partner, HomeCare Connect
Workers’ comp employers moved quickly to protect their employees’ physical health during the pandemic. They deployed social distancing, personal protective equipment, and work-from-home strategies when feasible. But, what about their employees’ mental health?
By all accounts, mental health suffered during COVID-19 and its economic shutdowns. Worries about contracting the virus, uncertainties about how it spread, wildly mixed messages, and devastating financial impacts produced a tsunami of anxiety.
Suddenly employees who could, worked from home. Some were isolated. Family dynamics shifted as extended families moved in together. Parents were thrust into full-time childcare and overseeing online education duties. Layoffs and furloughs brought severe financial pressures into households. Domestic violence increased.
Employees who remained in the workplace faced new stressors. Angry shoppers railed over empty shelves and refused to wear masks. Retail workers were physically assaulted. Healthcare professionals lacked PPE, medical equipment, supplies, reliable treatment, and had to watch patient after patient die alone.
Workers’ compensation has historically tended to avoid “psyche” claims. Did that tendency influence the industry’s approach to human resource policies as well?
Recent years have brought a basic understanding of how psychosocial factors impede an injured workers’ physical recovery. The timing of this awareness was fortunate because our entire employee populations struggled with many of these – fear, anxiety, depression, catastrophic thinking, post-traumatic stress disorder, and perceived injustice – during this public health crises.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 40.9 percent of American adults reported having at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, such as anxiety, depression, trauma and/or stress-related disorder.
Overeating was common. The American Psychology Association’s Stress in AmericaTM One Year Later, A New Wave of Pandemic Health Concerns found that more than two in five adults gained more weight than they wanted to during the pandemic, an average of 29 pounds. A little over 13 percent said they either started using some kind of substance as a coping mechanism or dialed up the use of one. Alcohol sales and consumption soared. Drug overdoses increased between 30-40 percent during the first two quarters of 2020, according to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Research shows that mental health disorders affect a person’s ability to concentrate and contribute effectively to the workplace and can affect their physical health. This means higher absenteeism and healthcare costs and lower productivity and profits. Recent analysis from the National Safety Council and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago University calculated that employees with mental distress cost employers nearly $15,000 per person per year in lost workdays, healthcare costs and increased turnover.
In our world, not caring for employees’ mental health can also have a detrimental impact on the care an injured worker receives.
What now? Going Forward for Well Being
With vaccines available and people returning to offices, it’s tempting to think the worst is over and things can go back to normal, whatever that is. But returning to the office will not automatically heal the anguish some staff members are feeling.
Remember some people have been hurt, some very badly. They’ve lost spouses, parents, and other loved ones. In many cases, they couldn’t even be with them when they died.
They may have been terribly ill themselves, and studies show COVID-19 patients are more likely to develop depression, anxiety and dementia. There are neurological as well as psychological aspects to the disease. Many people, especially those on ventilators for extended periods of time, felt so helpless they developed fear and depression and need psychological as well as physical therapy.
Some employees suffered financially. Those with substance abuse disorders couldn’t get to their rehabilitation counselors or centers. Mental illness was exacerbated in people who already had it, and many were newly diagnosed with mental or behavioral issues.
The workers’ comp industry needs to do what all good employers do: support their people. If you don’t already have an employee assistance program, check into it. If it’s just not feasible, create a list of community resources. County health departments have services most people know little about. Communicate, educate, provide resources, and make sure people know about them.
For some, the pandemic was the first time mental or behavioral disorders was openly discussed. Stress, anxiety, and depression is so common that facing it and talking about has become more acceptable, and this is a good thing.
Executives and supervisors should model wellness practices, whether it’s relaxation, meditation, or yoga. Next week, I’ll get into more details about creating a culture of caring. Meanwhile, consider this: many of your employees have been through a long, terrible experience. There are emotional scars and wounds. Taking care of their mental wellbeing is just as important as protecting them physically. It’s really a form of risk management. You’re looking at risk factors and minimizing things that produce negative outcomes.
About Teresa Williams
Teresa Williams oversees day-to-day operations and provides hands-on experience in clinical oversight of the company’s home health, durable medical equipment, and home modification services. Williams developed the company’s comprehensive national home health provider network and its post-acute care referral network.
Before co-founding Home Care Connect in 2011, she was a partner in a Medicare Set-Asides company. Previously she worked for 18 years in psychiatric settings in hospitals, both in management and counseling roles.
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Williams earned her Bachelor of Sociology degree from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, and a master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.
About HomeCare Connect
Specializing in catastrophic cases, HomeCare Connect manages the quality and cost of home health care, post-acute care, medical equipment and supplies, home modification, and prosthetics and orthotics for workers’ compensation patients and payers. The Inc. 5000 and the Orlando Business Journal’s lists of fast-growing, privately held companies have both captured the company’s rapid growth. Based in Winter Park, Florida, near Orlando, the company serves clients nationally and can be reached at www.homecareconnect.com or 855-223-2228.
HomeCare Connect is a WorkCompWire ad partner.
This is NOT a paid placement.