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Is PTSD Covered by Workers Compensation?

PTSD Workers Compensation icon

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is linked to experiencing or witnessing a potentially traumatic event.

A potentially traumatic event involves exposure to a threat or distress, whether that threat is real or just perceived to be real. The threat might be to your life or to your physical safety, it might be a threat to you, a colleague, or someone nearby. It can be a single incident, or it can happen repeatedly. 

If you have witnessed or experienced a potentially traumatic event while you are at work and are suffering symptoms of enduring mental trauma you may be covered by Workers Compensation.

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Mental illness is something that many Australians live with every day, with one in five Australians affected by mental health issues every year. If you are living with mental health issues caused by an incident at work, there is no reason to feel helpless or unsupported.

While claiming for a workplace psychological injury can be complicated, it is certainly not impossible. A mental health injury is no less valid than a physical injury for Workers Compensation. So long as your PTSD arose out of your work or in the course of your work, we can help you with your claim.

This is a guide which covers how trauma from work stress can happen, and how work injuries can be caused. We also look at how you can start a personal injury claim and what you need to provide.

Workplace stress and mental health

In the Workplace

Workplace stress

Trauma can occur due to ongoing work stress. For that reason, firefighters, police and ambulance officers are particularly vulnerable to developing PTSD due to what they see and experience every day. But mental health issues are not just limited to these types of roles, and in many cases a worker can begin to experience a change in their mental health from something like bullying at work.

Workplace bullying can be verbal abuse, offensive behaviour, threats, sabotage or physical behaviour. PTSD does not discriminate; you might be a teacher, an office worker, or a healthcare professional and your symptoms may develop over time. Mental health symptoms that develop from a toxic work environment are possible, but a doctor or mental health professional will need to diagnose you and show the link between your work and your injury.

  • Witnessing a traumatic event or being part of a traumatic event can cause PTSD
  • Trauma can affect you no matter what kind of role or job you have
  • You might not notice the symptoms right away
  • Many people with PTSD have other disorders, like substance abuse, anxiety and/or depression

A single traumatic incident

Mental trauma after workplace accident

Your mental health concern doesn’t have to be caused by a series of events over time. You can have symptoms after just one traumatic incident. Again, a single incident can occur in any profession, whether you experience the trauma directly or are affected after seeing something happen to a colleague or while you are at work. An example would be a retail workers subject to an armed robbery in the workplace. As long as you have sustained your PTSD injury at work, you may be able to claim for Workers Compensation.

  • You don’t need to go through multiple events; one single incident is enough to cause mental trauma
  • You might not notice the symptoms right away
  • Everyone has a different threshold for their mental health, don’t think that an event isn’t ‘traumatic’ enough
  • Any profession can be affected by single traumatic incidents

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

If you have developed post-traumatic stress disorder you will usually experience some similar feelings that you had during the event. There are usually four main types of symptoms:

  • Reliving the event – even though you don’t want to you may have recurring memories, dreams, nightmares and vivid images. You may have intense reactions to this, and you might go through panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Being wound up, or really alert – there’s a chance you will have trouble sleeping if you are going through PTSD, and might feel like you’re on the lookout for danger all the time.
Alcohol abuse after traumatic experience
  • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the event – you will deliberately avoid anything (people, places, events, thoughts, TV shows, movies, news) that remind you of the event because it’s painful to think about it.
  • Feeling empty, or numb – if you are living with PTSD you may feel cut off from your family and friends, and feel flat quite a lot.

You might also have some other mental health concerns that came along around the same time, or a little while after. Things like depression, anxiety and even substance abuse (alcohol and/or drugs) are common with people who have PTSD, especially if you have been living with it for a while.

What can I claim under Workers Compensation?

There are a number of things that Workers Compensation can help you with. In many cases, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder means that you are unable to continue your work because it is traumatic and painful to do so. Workers Compensation is there to help you financially with this psychological injury so that you can recover as completely as possible.

  • Lost wages – both past lost wages and future earnings
  • Any medical expenses that are reasonable and necessary for your recovery (like psychological treatment, counselling, therapeutic treatment)
  • Costs for your rehabilitation
  • Any costs that are needed for retraining to do other work which is more suited to your mental health and recovery
  • A lump sum payment may be possible if you are permanently disabled or injured

How you can claim for mental health injuries in the workplace?

Proving poor mental health condition

If you are looking to claim for workplace-related post-traumatic stress disorder with Workers Compensation it is important to get the process started as soon as you can. There are time limits for work compensation claims in Queensland.

How to start your claim

To claim you need to be able to show that your mental health injury happened because your employer was negligent. You have to show that your employer did not do enough to make sure an injury like yours wouldn’t happen. You also need to be able to prove that your injury was a predictable outcome of the trauma you went through. Our Brisbane mental health injury lawyers can help you to understand this process.

What you need to provide

You will have to provide proof of your current or existing mental health condition, so you will need to see a doctor and other health professionals to provide a diagnosis. You will need to provide information about the event (or events). This will include dates and times, who was involved, what happened, and names and contact details of witnesses. You will also need to provide details about how you have been affected. The people assessing your claim for Workers Compensation will also need to get information from you, from your employer and from any other people, like witnesses or colleagues. They may also ask you to get an independent medical examination to prove your claim.  

When can’t I make a claim?

If your post-traumatic stress disorder has come from something other than work but made worse by your work, it may be hard to prove that it arose out of your employment. Also, if your PTSD has come about from ‘reasonable management action’ – things like getting or not getting a transfer, disciplinary action, a performance appraisal, being demoted, not getting a pay rise, or not having your leave approved – may not be claimable.

Claim processing times

How long does my claim take to decide?

After you provide all the information, the actual decision happens fairly quickly. It is in everyone’s best interests that you get your claim processed quickly so you can recover and make a return to work where possible. Being unable to work as you would prefer to is hard on you and your family. A claim for mental health injury can be very complex, so we will work with you to make sure you get the documents right and have all the information you need to be able to claim promptly.

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Last update on:
June 1, 2021
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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