After soldiers started returning home from World War I, physicians noticed many were exhibiting psychological symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms continued for months and, in some cases, even years. At the time, the condition that caused the symptoms was called “shell shock.” Soldiers who returned home after World War II started showing the same symptoms, and at that time, the condition was known as “combat fatigue.”
Today, the condition first noticed over 100 years ago is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly called PTSD. Although PTSD is traditionally associated with military service, anyone can develop the condition. In some cases, experiencing a serious traumatic event at work can even cause PTSD. In these cases, workers often wonder if they are eligible to receive workers’ compensation for the condition. Below, one of our Illinois workers’ compensation lawyers explains who qualifies for benefits after suffering from this mental health condition. Our Illinois workers’ compensation lawyers can help you through the process and ensure you receive the maximum benefits you deserve, contact us today.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a mental health condition, and as much as eight percent of the population is affected at any given time. Within the workforce, approximately 3.6 percent of employees between 18 and 54 will have post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year.
A person may develop PTSD after they witness or experience a traumatic event. After such an event, everyone will exhibit some symptoms of PTSD and distress. However, in most cases, these symptoms generally subside within a short period. When symptoms do not abate within a matter of days or weeks, there is a high possibility that the person has developed post-traumatic stress disorder. After developing PTSD, a person may experience many different symptoms. The most common of these include:
- Continuous invasive memories: A person may have constant invasive memories of the traumatic event. Sometimes, people may experience flashbacks, making them feel as though they are reliving the event. It is also not uncommon for people to have nightmares about the event. Regardless of how the memories present, they can leave a person feeling afraid, anxious, suspicious, or guilty.
- Avoidance: People suffering from PTSD often try to avoid anything related to the traumatic event. For example, they may avoid places and activities that remind them of the traumatic event. A person with PTSD may also avoid people in general, even if they have nothing to do with the event. This can result in feelings such as detachment and loneliness.
- Behavioral changes: Known medically as “arousal symptoms,” a person may experience several behavioral changes. These can include reacting with intense emotion or having reactions that are different from what a person would experience before the traumatic event. Angry and irrational outbursts are also common.
- Inability to focus: Many people who suffer from PTSD feel as though they are constantly in danger or under attack. This can result in an inability to focus and sleep issues, even when a person is not experiencing nightmares.
- Mood swings: Sufferers of PTSD may no longer be interested in maintaining the relationships they had developed prior to the traumatic event. They may also develop a general feeling of negativity that comes in the form of helplessness, hopelessness, numbness, and bad feelings about themselves and others. Strong feelings of shame and guilt are also common, as are thoughts of suicide.
The above are just a few of the most common symptoms of PTSD. Some people develop substance abuse problems to deal with or avoid their emotions. Others may develop chronic pain or believe that chronic pain is imminent. Regardless of the symptoms a person experiences after developing PTSD, medication and counseling may be recommended as treatment options. While these treatments can help minimize the symptoms of PTSD, they may reappear once treatment has concluded.
Traumatic Incidents in the Workplace that Cause PTSD
People never expect to go to work and live through a traumatic experience that results in post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, it is more common in some careers than others. The most common of these include:
- Employees of retail stores,
- Teachers and other school staff members,
- Police officers and firefighters,
- Electricians and construction workers,
- Workers in manufacturing plants, and
- Law enforcement officers.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is typically very difficult to diagnose. People may experience nightmares, anxiety and become anti-social or irritable. These mental injuries can also cause additional physical symptoms. Heart problems, chronic fatigue, and headaches are just a few ways people with PTSD suffer physically. As with all other workers’ compensation claims, workers must prove that they sustained PTSD on the job, as well as the severity of their condition. This is often through the thoroughly documented testimony of a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. A mental health expert can testify about the reported symptoms and how they limit a person’s ability to work.
However, in Illinois, the Supreme Court has required that PTSD can be covered under workers’ compensation if the employee “suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to a definite time, place and cause…though no physical trauma or injury was sustained.” This condition is referred to as a mental-mental injury as it is a mental injury that was caused by a mental stressor. This differs from a physical injury that causes a mental injury, such as developing depression following a serious back surgery. These mental-mental injuries are much more difficult to prove caused by a “severe emotional shock” or/and your PTSD relates specifically to that severe emotional shock.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim for PTSD
Sadly, many employers and insurance companies do not take PTSD as seriously as they should. They often argue that the employee is exaggerating their symptoms or that they did not experience or witness a traumatic event that is not a “severe emotional shock.” If your claim has been denied, there are steps you can take to receive the benefits you deserve. Once you have suffered a “severe emotional shock” that you believe is causing the symptoms of PTSD, you should:
- Seek immediate medical care from a mental healthcare professional. Your family doctor may be able to assist with medication management as well as a referral
- Keep a journal of your ongoing symptoms
- Seek immediate legal assistance as almost every mental-mental case for PTSD is denied initially
Our Workers’ Compensation Lawyers in Illinois Can Prove Your Case
If you have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event while on the job, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. At the Law Office of Jerome Salmi Kopis, LLC, our Illinois workers’ compensation lawyers can help you navigate the process and prove your case, so you obtain the full benefits you are entitled to. Call us now at (618) 726-2222 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation.