Workers’ compensation for depression and anxiety

Most people think of workers’ compensation as payments for workplace injuries such as fractured bones, concussions and amputations. In Colorado, workers’ compensation also pays benefits for medical bills and lost wages due to nonphysical injuries. Among these nonphysical injuries are serious depression and anxiety. Harm to your mental health can be as damaging to you as a physical injury. If you suffer anxiety, depression, or another mental health impairment due to a work condition or incident, you may be eligible to receive Colorado workers’ compensation benefits. You should contact a workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your potential claim.

What is mental impairment under the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act?

Colorado’s workers’ compensation system pays benefits for workplace injuries and illnesses under a system of rules and regulations determined by the state work comp statute. The statute includes mental impairments as a type of workplace injury or illness qualifying for benefits. (Workers’ Compensation Act, section 8-41-301(2)(a).) According to the workers’ comp statute, mental impairment is defined as a permanent disability that does not involve physical injury but causes harm to a worker by psychological trauma.

Qualifications for benefits due to a workplace-related mental impairment

Not every psychological trauma or mental health condition related to work qualifies you for workers’ compensation benefits in Colorado. To qualify for benefits, you must have developed a mental impairment during your employment. Generally, the incident resulting in depression or anxiety must be unusual for you and the nature of your job. (A specific exception was made in a 2018 amendment.) Many people experience sadness, anxiety and depression due to working long hours, a stressful job, or displeasure with workplace conditions. That is not enough to qualify for benefits due to anxiety or depression as a mental impairment. These are considered normal conditions that do not result in an illness or injury that qualifies for work comp. The test applied under the Colorado workers’ comp statute is whether the incident would be distressing enough to cause the same impairment in a reasonable worker under similar circumstances.

Some examples of workplace conditions that generally do not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for depression or anxiety include:

  • Disciplinary action
  • Performance evaluation
  • Job transfers
  • Demotion
  • Termination

Bad faith employment actions, like wrongful termination, may make you eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Additionally, you may qualify for lost wages and medical bills under workers’ compensation if your depression or anxiety results from a physical injury on the job. It is common for people who suffer serious physical injuries to also experience anxiety or depression as a result of the physical condition. Under the Colorado workers’ compensation law, you may be eligible to recover damages due to the associated depression or anxiety.

Filing a workers’ comp claim for nonphysical injuries in Colorado

Filing a workers’ compensation claim is a required step under the Colorado workers’ compensation system to obtain benefits. The manner that you present your claim and what you allege as a workplace injury or illness can affect your ability to recover as well as how much you may be eligible to receive as benefits. You should talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer before filing a claim to make sure you present a claim for the benefits you deserve under the law.

Mental harm with physical injury

If you sustained a physical workplace injury that also caused depression or anxiety, you should file a claim for both types of injuries at once. Explain your physical injury and how it affected your life and ability to perform your job. In most cases, you will need a health care professional, such as a medical doctor or psychiatrist, to clinically diagnose your mental health condition. The provider must relate your depression or anxiety to the workplace accident that caused physical injury. Like a physical injury, you must seek treatment for the mental harm until a provider determines it is a permanent impairment. You may receive benefits for treatment of your mental impairment and lost wages if you are unable to work.

If you wait to file a claim for anxiety or depression, it may raise questions by an insurance company or your employer whether a workplace event caused your mental impairment. Your employer or its workers’ comp carrier may assert a separate event or preexisting condition caused your mental health condition so they can avoid paying benefits. If the anxiety or depression later developed as a result of your physical injury, it is important for your health care provider to explain that in your medical records.

Mental harm without physical injury

Mental harm can also occur without physical injury, such as experiencing an event that caused anxiety or depression. Observing a horrific event at work likely will not cause physical injury but can cause depression or anxiety. You can file a claim solely for nonphysical damages and receive work comp payments. The process for the claim is similar to one with physical injury. You must report your experience to your employer. When you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression you must see a medical doctor for a clinical diagnosis. If the doctor attributes the mental harm to the job incident, you should file a workers’ compensation claim. You must follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor or psychiatrist, such as therapy or medication. You can recover the cost of treatment through work comp.

When you submit a claim for mental trauma it is important to explain the event and how your depression or anxiety affected your life. If you miss time at work or accrue bills for psychotherapy and diagnosis, you must include those impacts in your claim. It is important that a medical professional diagnoses your condition and attributes it to the workplace event. Your employer’s insurance company may request more information or evidence to support your claim for benefits on a mental impairment.

Financial compensation for mental impairment

You may receive a financial award for the economic costs related to a mental disability caused by the workplace. The workers’ compensation insurer for your employer is responsible for paying benefits for a valid claim in accordance with the Colorado work comp statute. For example, you may recover medical bills you paid, require the insurance company to pay future bills and receive a portion of wages lost due to your injuries. If your mental condition is permanent, you may require life-long treatment and workers’ compensation may pay for that long term treatment.

An important concern with workers’ compensation claims in Colorado is what kind of compensation you can receive. Under workers’ compensation, you can only receive economic damages caused by the work-related injury or illness. That primarily includes the cost of medical care and lost earnings. Workers’ compensation in Colorado does not pay non-economic damages like pain and suffering. That is a problem especially for anxiety and depression. Unlike a physical injury, people with anxiety or depression often return to work because the lack of money and isolation at home can make the symptoms worse. Often the non-economic effects are the worst part of the impairment.

In certain circumstances you can pursue other types of claims for work-related anxiety or depression that open the door to recovering non-economic damages. For example, if a third party caused a car accident that resulted in both physical and non-physical injuries, you can pursue a work comp claim and a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. This is among the reasons why you should talk to a Denver workers’ compensation lawyer to help you evaluate your case and pursue all claims possible under Colorado law.

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