Addressing mental health in worker’s compensation involves several key strategies that ensure compassionate and competent care for injured workers and claims progression. Here’s a look at some best practices drawn from our ISYS Case Management approach:

Understand the Landscape

Case Managers act as intermediaries between injured works, healthcare professionals, employers, and insurers, facilitating care and ensuring that all parties are aligned towards recovery and return to work.

In workers’ compensation injury management mental illness can fly under the radar but conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others should not be overlooked because they can cause harm, exacerbate a workplace injury and increase claim costs.

Mental health conditions can impede an injured worker’s physical healing, decrease their motivation to recover, disrupt daily functioning and put a strain on their relationships. The complications of mental illness can create delays in appropriate care and confusion around treatment paths and priorities. These dynamics prolong the claims process and increase costs.

Furthermore, an injured worker struggling with mental illness who does not receive immediate intervention can be at risk for causing harm to themselves or others. Some mental health issues can become emergencies and case managers must be prepared.

Tend to Mental Health and Wellness as a Case Management Practice:

Workers’ compensation case managers navigate the complexities of a claim and serve as advocates, liaisons, and sources of support for injured workers and their families. Effective communication, education, and coordination are essential components of case management, and especially so when mental health is a factor.

ISYS case managers utilize a unique approach to addressing the individual psychosocial and behavioral health needs of each worker’s compensation case, this proactive approach is known as ‘CaseSmart® Management’. It includes gathering insight into an injured worker’s perspective, conducting a comprehensive assessment of the injured workers’ history, psychosocial dynamics, support system, and overall mental well-being, in relation to the work-related injury, to identify and overcome psychosocial barriers that may impact treatment and recovery. With attention on the injured worker’s overall well-being, case managers initiate more timely interventions and better recovery outcomes​​.

Proactively Address Mental Health as a Potential Barrier:

Mental health is inseparable from physical wellbeing. When a case manager obtains a deeper level of insight into the injured worker’s mental state, they can ensure that proper support is provided when needed to reduce stress, improve coping skills, and avoid the potential for a mental health crisis.

With an understanding of the psychosocial barriers impacting the injured worker’s recovery and return to work, the case manager can better advocate and advise the claims professional on appropriate short-term interventions that can enable better long-term outcomes and future cost containment for the work-related injury.

For example, if an injured worker with low back injury has severe social anxiety preventing them from attending their medical appointments and delaying recovery, the case manager can offer community support resources. These resources address the anxiety and empower the injured worker with the coping skills needed to prevent prolonging treatment for the back injury. This leads to better treatment plan compliance, ultimately shortening the likely length of the claim.

This level of case management intervention requires critical analysis, compassion, and understanding of the complexity of factors that influence an injured workers return to work. It also involves collaborating and communicating proactively and assertively with all parties to ensure comprehensive treatment plans are considerate of any psychosocial or mental health risk factors.

Educate and Provide Resources and Support:

Case Managers play a pivotal role in educating injured workers about the importance of tending to their mental well-being and having a self-care practice.

Case managers can help inform employers and insurance providers about the impact of mental health on recovery and return to work outcomes in a way that assists them in mitigating complications to claims and in containing costs.

Consider an example of a injured worker who had a pre-existing eating disorder but recently suffered a finger amputation after an accident at work with a heavy machine. While the eating disorder was not part of the workers’ compensation claim, the case manager can provide education, encouragement, and community resources for promoting optimal nutrition since better nutrition for this injured worker could dramatically improve the prognosis and healing time for recovering from the amputation.

In order to be effective at identifying psychosocial barriers to recovery, case managers must be well educated about mental health and have knowledge and access to resources for responding to a mental health crisis. This commitment to professional growth along with internal protocols that case managers must follow when there is a potential mental health concern, are part of what sets ISYS case managers apart and ensures that they are well-equipped to handle the complexities of any worker’s compensation case​​.

Finally, a comprehensive approach to case management prioritizing both the physical and mental aspects of health is integrative and essential to best practices. It is important to discuss mental health to reduce stigma, raise awareness and improve access to mental health care for injured workers within the workers compensation system.

By implementing best practices outlined above, case managers serve a more vital role in recovery. They can more positively impact the lives of those they serve and contribute to a healthier, more resilient community.

(At ISYS Case Management we make our commitment to mental health personal by fundraising and donating for Mental Health charitable organizations including the Mental Health Association of Orange County.)


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