Most Missouri workers' compensation claims are connected to workplace accidents that cause physical injuries, or to occupational diseases caused by workplace environments. However, there is another separate category of injury that can pose a threat to employees: that of mental or psychological injuries.
You might be surprised to hear that the American Psychological Association ranks mental injuries "among the top ten work-related injuries and illnesses in the nation," and are rapidly on the rise. They offer various theories as to why this might be so.
• Society as a whole has become more educated about mental illnesses and their effects on an individual's health. This increased knowledge has led to heightened awareness of job-related stress disorders that can manifest as mental illnesses.
• Similarly, more employers now understand that mental health directly contributes to productivity. Several states have adjusted their workers' compensation statutes to allow employees to collect benefits for job-related mental health issues.
• A large percentage of today's jobs require more mental than physical effort, increasing the possibility of developing a mental injury.
• Given concerns about the economy and current unemployment rates, the nature of today's workplace is more competitive, fast-paced and stressful than it has ever been. When employees suffer psychological injuries at work, those injuries are often connected to stress.
Here are a couple of real-life examples of mental injuries sustained in the workplace:
• On August 4, 2001, a bank teller in Canton, Ohio was robbed at gunpoint. She was unable to return to her job, and she was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But here's the catch: unlike a broken bone, torn retina or mesothelioma, mental injuries are much harder to prove in court, and thus much harder to win a claim for. In this case, the teller was actually denied benefits because there was no corresponding physical injury, not even a minor one, which was a requirement of Ohio law at that time. She took her claim all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, but lost.
• In 2010, a Missouri mental health care worker was awarded permanent and total disability benefits for a mental injury sustained at work. The worker has been diagnosed with PTSD after traveling to New York to assist postal workers following the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers. He reported difficulty concentrating, anxiety and nightmares, but he initially returned to work. However, within a year, his condition escalated: after threatening to shoot his coworkers, he was also diagnosed with major affective disorder, and he was never able to return to his job. The Workers' Comp Commission affirmed the award of benefits from the Second Injury Fund.