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Why checking in on a worker’s mental health after an injury is crucial

January 31, 2024
By Mia Barnes

Photo: Adobe Stock

Did one of your employees get injured on the job? Regardless of how stringent your safety measures are, some factors that can cause an accident are out of your scope, leading to unfortunate events that distress a worker.

After a workplace injury, the role of the managers and leadership team continues until the team member is physically and mentally ready to return to work. Here are reasons why checking in on their mental health post-injury is vital and the steps to take to support their reintegration.

Life changes after an injury go beyond physical health

The trauma from a workplace injury affects both physical and mental well-being. Whether it’s a simple case of a slip and fall, chemical exposure or workplace violence, sometimes that fear lasts for a long time, robbing workers of peace of mind and a good quality of life. On top of that, it poses problems and further delays the time they can return to work.

Adjustments and difficulties on returning To work

One big hurdle for staff returning to the office is the changes that will confront them. For instance, they may no longer be fit enough to handle the tasks they were previously assigned, so they need to learn a new skill as a temporary or permanent measure to keep the job. They may also move to a different team where they don’t know anyone.

These changes — although in the person’s best interest — pose a challenge to their mental state and performance. The fear of isolation, relationship strain and even re-injury exist, causing them unnecessary worries. Help workers overcome these difficulties by walking them through how to rejoin the workplace seamlessly.

Elevated risk of mental health issues

Another high-priority reason to check in on a team member’s well-being is to assess their risk for mental health problems. Some studies cite that 25%–45% of workers who sustained injuries at work develop depressive symptoms one month following the incident.

In addition, the rate of diagnosed depression is more than three items higher in injured staff compared to the general population. Roughly 75% of injured employees also experience sleep problems compared to only half of non-injured people.

What’s even more surprising is that work-related psychological injuries resulted in health care expenses that cost 12 times more than physical injuries. From this pattern, managers can realize a regular mental health check-in can sidestep future problems.

Providing adequate support to employees

It greatly helps if the leadership team has a return-to-work plan they can develop and participate in to support their workers. Here are some of the ways to expand the system.

1. Create a supportive work environment

Communication is key to promoting a culture of psychological safety in the workplace. Share information about extended health benefits, employee assistance programs, sick days and return-to-work policies. Educate the team about the measures you’ll take to address conflicts or performance concerns that may arise after they rejoin the workplace.

At the same time, lend your ears to their complaints and feedback. By facilitating fair two-way communication, you can find the gaps in the return-to-work plan and resolve them immediately. Safety managers must collaborate with HR and the higher leadership team to incorporate mental well-being into the return-to-work process.

2. Implement post-injury mental health check-ins

How can you tell if the staff member is feeling depressed or anxious? They can be looking and feeling good on the outside, but their internal distress keeps them awake at night. The best way to know if they’re at high risk is to collaborate with health care professionals for a frequent mental health check assessment.

After an injury, encourage them to consult a psychologist online or offline for debriefing and continued counseling. A professional can teach them safe coping mechanisms to combat stress, anxiety, and other psychological risks that can hinder their full recovery and performance at work.

A case study of a female police officer from British Columbia found that intensive, interdisciplinary trauma-focused treatment helped process and overcome PTSD associated with her job. After the treatment involving occupational therapy and psychological interventions, she was able to go back to work gradually. A good return-to-work policy can detail everything an employee must do to resume work successfully.

3. Provide access to mental health resources

More importantly, by making mental health support accessible through training and teletherapy and encouraging the use of employee benefits, you can expect a positive outcome. Although mental health is now well-discussed and explored, the stigma around the topic persists. Widening the availability of resources will increase their willingness to leverage the tools they have to promote self-care and improve their well-being.

For instance, they can implement relaxation techniques if they learn how to do them properly from an expert. Mental health knowledge is power for injured employees, so create an environment where they can easily access the support and materials they need to reclaim their lives.

Mental health greatly matters in the workplace

One instance of injury in the workplace can instigate a host of adverse changes in the team member’s life, including in their mind. Your role as a leader is to support them from when the incident happens to when they decide to return to their job.

Create a flexible return-to-work plan you can customize based on their needs, and help them smoothly reintegrate into the workplace by making mental health support and resources accessible.

Mia Barnes is the editor-in-chief at Body+Mind. 

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