The Relationship Between Occupational Injury and Depression

Depression is more than just feeling sorry for yourself for a couple of days. It usually lasts for weeks or even months at a time, and left untreated can develop into a severe illness. It can prevent you from enjoying life and cause distress to those around you.

There are many triggers for depression. These include stress, lack of sleep, certain medications, alcohol or drug abuse, trauma and so on. Some people seem more susceptible to stress than others and research has found that one group apparently has an elevated risk – those who are injured at work.

Although empirical evidence is still limited, it appears that occupational injury leads to an increased likelihood of depression. According to a study published recently in the online medical journal BMC Public Health, 5.5% of workers injured on the job later suffered depression, against 4.7% of workers injured away from work and 3.1% with no injuries. The study also found that, the heightened risk of depression aside, the likelihood of the onset of depression increased as the length of time since the injury increased.

Studies have attributed two possible explanations for the increased likelihood of those suffering depression after a workplace injury than after a non-workplace injury:

1. An injury at work might result in reduced quality of life and lower socioeconomic status. Occupational injuries are often severe and the physical impairment and reduced income combine to increase the possibility of depression.

2. Those injured at work often have to go through an inquiry to find the cause and attribute blame. Employers and insurers may be unwilling to accept responsibility, meaning that the injured worker has to face additional stresses.

The most at risk of stress are those who have suffered life-threatening injuries or injuries that have caused disfigurement, but the onset of stress often remains undiagnosed or undetected for a considerable time. This can result in chronic anxiety, depression, substance abuse or somatic illnesses (those with physical symptoms but no biological cause).

As with all stress-related illnesses early intervention is crucial to recovery. Given the elevated risks of depression after a workplace injury, a timely assessment of the injured worker will allow strategies to be put into place that will obviate the risk of later problems. In the long term, this will have benefits both for the company itself and for the worker and his or her family.

The relationship between depression and workplace injury has only relatively recently come under scrutiny – first recognised since the 1970s when the link between occupational hazards and post-traumatic stress syndrome was established. Armed with new knowledge, occupational health practitioners will be able to become more effective in the prevention of stress and depression in the wake of workplace injuries.
Presently, however, injured workers may continue to struggle with depression or other emotional problems. For them early depression treatment is vital if their condition is to be controlled and they are to achieve full recovery before it seriously impacts on their lives.

This article was written by Alexander Thornton an expert in Mental Health and Addiction based in the UK.

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