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Stress, mental illness often overlooked in workers' compensation

The term workers’ compensation brings to mind injuries caused by falling objects or heavy equipment and other examples of physical injury. Mental health issues that cannot be diagnosed with an x-ray or blood test are usually not considered in this context. It can be difficult for workers with complaints in the psychological realm to recover benefits under workers’ compensation laws due to little or no objective data of the condition itself or its relation to a worker’s employment. 

While the Malaysian jet that was missing for over two weeks is now believed to have been located where it crashed, the reasons for the crash will likely take years to uncover. But one possible cause has already been considered: one of the pilots of the plane could have suffered from mental illness and crashed the plane himself. Stories of disgruntled employees who open fire on their co-workers are unfortunately not uncommon, but would a pilot actually crash a plane with not only his co-workers but hundreds of innocent passengers onboard? According to investigations, apparently so.

U.S. investigators report several cases of suspected pilot suicide in plane crashes since 1997. Although the FAA reports that these cases are rare, eight of 2,758 fatal crashes that took place between 2002 and 2012 were caused by pilot suicide. The question is whether a different attitude toward mental illness in the workplace could have prevented these accidents.

Whether in the airline industry, an industrial plant, or a post office, removing the stigma that goes with reporting mental illness could result in more self-reporting by employees, especially when they fear losing their jobs. If an employer sees a worker break an arm while loading freight, there is obvious evidence of the injury and the fact that it occurred while at work. But an employee who sees a therapist for stress related to the workplace is much less likely to seek workers’ compensation benefits, or even file an insurance claim for medical expenses.

Any worker in Minnesota who feels unreasonably stressed or otherwise suffers from mental health symptoms related to work should discuss those issues with a mental health professional, and it may also be wise to talk to a workers’ compensation attorney about one’s rights. If a claim is justified, an experienced attorney will know how to handle the claim in the best way possible.

Source: US News & World Report, “Pilot suicide a taboo topic in past probes, as Malaysia seeks answers to Flight 370 mystery,” Nick Perry and Rod McGuirk, March 16, 2014

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