As a Licensed Associate Counselor, Janine Faux describes trauma as someone shaking a snow globe. The snow-like particles are calm until, suddenly, the snow globe is grasped and violently rocked, sending the particles swirling frenziedly. Momentarily, the picture inside blurs with the chaotic motion.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to prevent trauma from occurring; however, as the metaphorical particles settle, it is possible to treat the aftermath.
This is what’s happening all around the world currently.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the catalyst. Many people have been traumatized not only by the fear associated with the virus and the loss of family and friends, but also by social isolation.
While everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, those essential workers on the front line have been affected the worst. Those in the medical and healthcare field have particularity felt the pressures of the pandemic, which has led to a rise in suicides and suicide attempts.
As the pandemic rages on, there isn’t yet a true count of the number of clinicians, nurses and doctors who have taken their lives as a result of the pandemic.
There have been inconsistencies with the reporting on physician suicide. But even so, experts suggest that the suicide rate amongst physicians is nearly twice the rate of those in the general population. Some analysts estimate that 400 U.S. physicians commit suicide every year.
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that more than 20% of the more than 97,000 healthcare workers analyzed suffered from anxiety, depression and PTSD.
And this was before the pandemic.
PTSD among healthcare workers
Although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with the military and war, anyone experiencing trauma can experience the extreme distress, flashbacks and nightmares associated with the disorder.
Moreover, even though healthcare workers may be better trained and prepared to handle the psychological traumas that they can experience from treating seriously ill and/or injured patients, the extreme conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has left even seasoned physicians struggling to cope.
Those working in emergency clinics are at an increased risk of suffering from PTSD because they are more likely to be placed in a high-stress working environment. This includes the following situations:
- Disrupted circadian rhythms from the nature of shift work
- Witnessing frequent death and trauma
- Treating the severely traumatized patients
- Managing critical medical situations
- Working through crowded conditions
Most people are capable of working through traumatic situations; however, certain risk factors can make it harder to recover from being exposed to trauma. According to previous studies these factors include:
- Being female
- Not having a support system at home
- Having a history of a psychiatric condition
- Having young children
- Feeling helpless during the trauma
Living and working in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic brings with it some of the same conditions that are increasing the chance of healthcare workers to experience PTSD symptoms. These conditions include caring for the critically ill patients that have been admitted to hospitals in unprecedented numbers.
Moreover, the unpredictableness of the virus’ course, the mortality rate and lack of standard treatment has added further stress to beleaguered healthcare workers.
PTSD signs and symptoms
PTSD can arise in various forms, but some of the most common symptoms are broken down into 3 categories:
Intrusion PTSD symptoms are characterized by the recurrence of dreams, images and/or memories of the traumatic event.
Avoidance PTSD symptoms involve the individual affected refusing to go to places that are related to the trauma, avoiding the people involved, or speaking about details surrounding the traumatic event. Additionally, avoidance symptoms include an overall decrease in a person’s activity level.
Symptoms of the arousal category include an increase in psychophysiological reactivity. This can also manifest as either attention-deficit or circadian rhythm disorders and/or the victim experiencing increased vigilance.
Other debilitating symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Severe, prolonged depression
- Anxiety and/or excessive worrying
- Loss of appetite
- Withdrawing from friends, family and/or coworkers
Is PTSD covered by workers’ compensation?
PTSD can be quite debilitating and has the power to disrupt a person’s everyday life.
A 2008 study from Boston University showed that workers suffering from PTSD experience a higher rate of absenteeism from work, more medical visits, a higher rate of unemployment/underemployment, greater difficulty handling the demands of work, and a higher chance of being paid less for their job.
Given the above risks, it is a relief that those experiencing PTSD from job-related trauma, including healthcare workers, may be able to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
In Arizona, if you can answer ‘YES’ to both of the following statements, your employer may cover your medical expenses and lost wages for PTSD after a work-related trauma:
- As the employee, are you seeking treatment from a licensed counselor who has diagnosed you with PTSD as a result of a work-related traumatic experience?
- Did you follow protocol and report the traumatic event to your employer promptly, and ensure that the claim was filed with the Industrial Commission of Arizona within the time limit?
Why PTSD work injury claims can be challenging
While PTSD is typically covered as long as these conditions are met, it is important to remember that since PTSD was only legitimized as a recognized medical diagnosis relatively recently (1980) by the American Psychiatric Association, some insurance companies don’t automatically accept PTSD claims.
Workers’ compensation claims are complex. Filing claims for mental health conditions (which aren’t visible) are even more complex. Affected workers in Arizona often find that they have a harder time securing workers’ compensation for PTSD because they need to prove that their traumatic event was the contributing factor for their PTSD. Furthermore, the traumatic event must be extraordinary, unexpected and unusual.
If you’ve experienced a traumatic event while on the job and are struggling to receive the compensation you deserve, contact the experienced Arizona workers’ compensation attorneys at Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski today for your free consultation.