Are mental health problems a workplace injury? Yes, according to a recent study. In fact, they are the most common workplace injury.
The report by Atticus, a workers' compensation and disability benefits company headquartered in Los Angeles, revealed that mental health issues make up 52% of all workplace injury cases, more than any other kind.
"It makes people think about mental health differently, that you could consider a mental health issue, maybe an injury," said Dan Schawbel, a workplace expert who is not connected to the study. "And maybe we should consider or think about the importance of disability insurance and what that covers."
The study drew on non-fatal injury data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal and catastrophic injury data from OSHA, and Google Trends data on workplace-related injuries. It ranked US states based on workplace safety and also drew on an Atticus survey of 1000 workers.
The study found that 1 in 10 workers experience mental health issues related to their jobs and those issues are more common than other kinds of workplace injuries. For example: mental health issues are 10 times more common than chemical exposure and almost nine times more common than head injuries.
Dr. Emily Anhalt, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Coa, which helps clients strengthen mental health programs, said this isn’t a surprise given that employees increasingly rely on cognitive, rather than physical, abilities to do their jobs. "Then add to that," she said, "we've just been through this insane pandemic where everyone's in survival mode, and we're sort of coming up for air and processing everything we've been through."
Anhalt added that it's in a company’s best interest to prioritize psychological well-being. She pointed out that insurance companies, which once placed little priority on preventative care, now appreciate that "it costs more money to fix a ... problem than to prevent one."
"I think what's happening is we're reaching this inflection point with mental health," she added, "Where companies, people, corporations, insurance companies, everyone is starting to understand that it costs more for our culture and society to fix mental health problems than it would to prevent them and to help people having better mental health in a proactive way."
Dan Schawbel, a workplace researcher, meanwhile, recommended that companies create a culture in which employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health issues.
"So culturally, it has to be okay to be honest with your manager about what you're dealing with from a mental health standpoint," he said. He added that companies should include more mental health benefits. For instance, he said that in recent years, many firms have begun including free therapy sessions.
Merritt Ryan of Atticus said it’s important for workers' compensation insurance to cover mental health. He pointed out that it’s currently nearly impossible to file a workers’ comp claim for mental health. In comparison, physical injuries receive medical care and wage replacement benefits from the workers’ comp insurers.
Still, Victoria Muñoz Torres, the attorney who leads thee workers' compensation function at Atticus, says that workers should always consult with lawyers to see just what benefits are available to them. For instance, if a worker is physically injured — and that causes mental health problems — a workers' compensation attorney can attach a secondary claim to the original physical injury claim. Also, Torres added, if the mental health affliction can be sourced to a specific workplace incident, someone might also be able to receive benefits.
"Even if you're not sure if your mental health condition can qualify you for benefits, you should talk to an expert about it," she said "You should talk to an attorney about it, because they're going to be in the best position to help inform you as to what your rights are. And you shouldn't necessarily, you know, take at face value what your employer is or isn't telling you what you're entitled to."
Dylan Croll is a Yahoo Finance reporter.