The day everything stopped for Sandra was a beautiful spring afternoon – perfect weather for a bike ride. But then, a tumble on loose gravel derailed those plans … and so much more.
A badly broken arm and a bruised body would keep her out of work for at least two months. A stabilizing sling and rest helped the bone heal. However, the potential mental health impact of what happened could have been another hurdle to overcome, slowing her recovery and return to work.
“Trauma impacts not only the person physically, but also psychologically,” says Adele Spallone, head of clinical operations at The Hartford. “After the initial and sudden shock of the injury, people can be confused, depressed and feel overwhelmed in taking care of themselves physically and emotionally.”
People can experience loss of control when their routine is suddenly gone, says Spallone, a licensed mental health counselor and family therapist. Spallone oversees a team of nurses, vocational and behavioral health specialists who help support workers out on disability or workers’ compensation leaves of absence. For some people, their well-being can be closely tied to their job. People who feel they have meaningful jobs miss it when they are out. Lacking that connection and routine, even for a short time, can affect their mental health, she says.
The risks, Spallone says, are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance misuse, poor eating and withdrawing from friends and family.
A Benefits Approach To Help Soften a Hard Landing
Fortunately for Sandra, her employer included short-term disability insurance in its employee benefits package. The benefit didn’t sit on a static checklist. Management routinely issued company-wide reminders of that benefit with easy-to-understand guidance on when and how to use it.
The bottom line for Sandra was, well, the bottom line. Knowing that disability insurance would provide income while she was off the job and the time to heal helped head off some unnecessary worry. Without the knowledge, going out on a disability claim can make an already stressful time even worse. Members of The Hartford’s clinical nurse intake team, often the first point of contact for someone filing a disability claim, can hear it in the caller’s voice.
“It’s high stress,” says intake nurse Donna Doucette. “They’re worried about money. They’re worried about their job. They’re worried about their health.”
Regular check-ins with that injured employee can help management understand where that worker is physically and mentally. Employers should be prepared to refer the worker to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or community resources, Spallone says.
“It’s incredibly important to listen and validate their feelings,” Spallone says. “And when they return, give them the flexibility they need to attend medical appointments or physical therapy. It helps them readjust to the work routine as they continue to recover.”
Bouncing Back: Optimism and Benefit Awareness
After a serious accident, Spallone says keeping a positive attitude is among the keys to recovery and returning to work. Other healthy coping mechanisms are:
- Talking to the company Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a mental health professional
- Giving yourself permission to talk about feelings you’re experiencing
- Within limits, staying as active as physically possible
- Participating in self-care activities, like meditation, deep breathing or journal writing
Well-informed employees can be their own best advocates. If an employer is providing benefits education, take the time to understand everything available. When or if the unexpected happens, it’s knowledge put to good use.
For example, before her accident, Sandra read up on her benefits and followed up with any questions for the HR staff. She had previously even added an accident insurance policy at open enrollment.
Like most people, she never thought she would use it.
But while she was home healing, Sandra had peace of mind. She knew she still had an income despite not working, thanks to short-term disability insurance. The accident insurance directly paid her for her injury. She could use the cash on whatever she most needed, including grocery deliveries, transportation to doctor appointments and medical co-pays.
Or maybe even a new bike.
Learn more about how to support and retain employees out on a disability leave.
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: HIG) operates through its subsidiaries, under the brand name, The Hartford, and is headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. For additional details, please read The Hartford’s legal notice at www.thehartford.com.