By Karen Thomas, Vice President, Clinical Solutions, CorVel Corporation
The U.S. is currently experiencing an epidemic of mental health problems in the workplace. According to the results of a 2022 survey released by the Surgeon General, 76% of U.S. workers reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition, while 84% said that their workplace conditions contributed to at least one mental health challenge. Additionally, a new Atticus study shows that stress and anxiety are now the most common workplace injury, comprising 52% of all workplace injury cases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety, at a cost of $1 trillion USD per year in lost productivity.
These issues are compounded for employees who are injured, as they are especially vulnerable to mental health problems – 25 – 45% of injured workers develop symptoms of depression as early as one month post-injury. Chronic pain and uncertainty about return-to-work can manifest in a variety of psychosocial factors that act as barriers to recovery.
As we have begun to recognize the impact of behavioral health issues on the recovery of the injured worker, our approach to case management is changing. Rather than taking a narrow view of treating a broken body part, we are instead taking a broader, more holistic view of the patient’s well-being. Looking at the whole person encompasses a view of their physical injury, their mental and emotional condition, and the situations around them that impact healing and recovery.
By being proactive in creating a workplace environment that supports good mental health and ensuring that injured workers receive the appropriate evaluations of their psychosocial well-being, employers can foster a positive work environment and help injured workers recover more quickly. Here are four recommendations to help support employees, both physically and mentally.
Provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAPS). No employee is immune from psychological stress. In addition to the demands people face in the workplace, they also face situations demanding attention in their personal lives: difficult relationships, family dynamics, health problems, aging parents, addiction, financial pressures. Early intervention can help keep these situations from impacting the employee’s health and productivity. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can be the first line of defense for any employee facing extra pressures.
Early intervention can be the key to identifying potential warning signs of psychosocial problems with injured workers. When an employee is injured, qualified case managers can conduct screenings to identify any warning signs of these problems so that the team addresses them promptly. Automated evaluation of data helps pick up these clues quickly, utilizing machine learning which can evaluate medical terminology and point out issues to the case manager. Highly intelligent technology can even evaluate audio files for signs of stress.
Provide care advocates to manage injured workers’ treatment. When an employee is vulnerable and recovering from an injury, the last thing they need is the stress of understanding and managing a complex medical system. This burden can be overcome in two ways, starting with a care advocate who will serve as the guide for the journey to recovery. Second, technology can connect all the participants in the care team, so that everyone is on the same page, appointments are kept, test results are reviewed and acted upon, and referrals are expedited. Delivering care virtually, including mental health services, also eases the burden on the injured worker by eliminating the need for transportation to appointments. Instead, they can receive care or therapy in the comfort of their own home.
Implement Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD). There are times when a traumatic incident doesn’t just injure or affect one employee. Natural disasters, accidents, and violent attacks can cause trauma not only for employees who are injured, but to their co-workers as well. These “bystanders” can also experience anxiety, stress, and even resort to substance abuse as a result of the incident. In these situations, Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD) are proven to be helpful. CISD provides employees with a safe space to process traumatic events. It also gives them information about the EAPs that may be available to help them, including counseling and treatment services. If properly implemented within 72 hours of the incident, CISD often leads to a boost in employee morale, and a likely reduction in losses due to employee absence, productivity, or turnover.
Armed with new technologies, a holistic viewpoint, and programmatic tools to manage psychological stress, case managers are now able to provide a new and much needed level of holistic care, resulting in improved outcomes and faster return-to-work.
About Karen Thomas
Karen Thomas, RN, MSN, CCM, is the Vice President, Clinical Solutions at CorVel Corporation, a national provider of risk management solutions for workers’ compensation, auto, health and disability management industries.
CorVel Corp. applies technology including artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to enhance the managing of episodes of care and the related health care costs. We partner with employers, third-party administrators, insurance companies and government agencies in managing worker’s compensation and health, auto and liability services. Our diverse suite of solutions combines our integrated technologies with a human touch. CorVel’s customized services, delivered locally, are backed by a national team to support clients as well as their customers and patients.