Mental stress injuries may not be as visible as physical injuries, but they are just as serious.
With physical injuries, the proof is often clear in the form of X-rays, doctors’ reports detailing symptoms, and visible signs of the injury. Injuries that may be related to mental stress, however, can be more difficult to confirm or prove.
In some situations, workers’ compensation laws may not cover mental stress injuries. Other times, it can be difficult to link emotional stress to a job-related source. For this reason, an attorney may recommend exploring options outside of the workers’ compensation system, like filing a personal injury claim against a responsible employer or co-worker.
What Causes Mental Stress Injuries?
Sources of mental stress are sometimes subtler in nature. For example, some co-workers may purposely create a tense work environment that results in a feeling of uneasiness. There are also instances when the source of mental stress is more apparent. For instance, a boss may reprimand you in front of others, set unrealistic goals for you or consistently give you excessively high workloads, or purposely place in you in stress-inducing situations. Possible causes of stress and anxiety in the workplace may also include:
- Bullying or harassment
- A “blame culture” where nobody is willing to admit mistakes
- Weak or ineffective management
- A poor physical working environment that affects you mentally (e.g., excessive heat, uncomfortable seating, poor lighting)
Some occupations are stressful—and potentially traumatic—in nature. Police officers, fire fighters, trauma surgeons, and paramedics, for example, may encounter emotionally difficult circumstances with each shift. Some of these experiences can be impossible to shake and can even contribute to post-traumatic stress.
What Are the Effects of Mental Stress?
Long-term exposure to stress in the workplace can mentally affect your judgment and cause you to make decisions that could cause even more stress at work. This is just one example of how your body and mind may be impacted by mental stress. You may physically experience back as your muscles become tense. Oftentimes, tense muscles affect your spine and the soft tissues that support it, which may contribute to chronic pain that can make your life at work even more stressful. Physical and mental signs associated with mental stress might also result in:
- Changes in appetite and sleep habits
- Irrational fears
- Addictions to food, drugs, or alcohol
- Mood changes
- Issues with personal relationships
- Prolonged periods of depression
How Is Mental Stress Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosing mental stress is often done through process of elimination. This may involve ruling out other possible causes of physical symptoms. If mental or emotional stress is believed to be a major contributing factor to the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may be referred to a physiologist for a mental health evaluation. Treatment often involves a combination of medication and various forms of therapy.
If you believe you are suffering from mental stress at work, tell someone. This could be your immediate supervisor or someone in your company’s HR department. Also, make a formal report so there will be documentation of what you reported and what was or wasn’t done about it. Ensure that your rights are protected by following any rules or procedures your workplace has for filing complaints, especially with regards to specific time periods (e.g., within 60 days of the incident occurring). Also, consider keeping a journal of specific instances with dates and detailed descriptions. This information may be helpful later if you work with an attorney to seek compensation or pursue a legal remedy.
Even if you are no longer in a workplace environment that’s causing you mental stress, the resulting injuries may continue to impact your personal and professional life. Before deciding how to proceed legally, it can be helpful to speak with an attorney to get a feel for your options. A lawyer can also provide assistance with the difficult task of securing medical evaluations, and interviewing potential witnesses who may have observed the work-related stress.