Sunday, November 18, 2007

Injured Soul? You're On Your Own

Recently, an anonymous commenter on Digital Doorway responded to a post I wrote about nurses and stress. He or she wrote the following:

"One major reason why nurses are stressed is because hospitals are understaffed. Management has been able to get away with this understaffing because they don't have to pay for workload-related chronic stress injuries.

"This is discrimination against psychologically injured workers who succumb to excessive WORKLOAD by getting depression or other chronic stress diseases.

"The hard-working employee who sustains a mental injury due to overwork is left without compensation which means they usually then go through a downward spiral of bankruptcy, loss of home, loss of pension and all the further stress that goes along with poverty.

"No wonder we have a health care worker crisis!"

The commenter makes some salient points. Taking my circumstance into consideration, seven years of working with trauma survivors and giving my all to the care of vulnerable individuals has led me to make a decision to take six weeks of unpaid leave in order to collect myself and heal. Why, within this society, are individuals serving the poor, ill and traumatized left to their own devices when it comes to recovering from providing such a public service? Why must burned out teachers and nurses take unpaid leave and use up their personal savings at a time when their service has exacted a psycho-emotional toll on their health?

Now, to draw an apt comparison, if a professional baseball player experienced undue stress and psychological trauma from the vigors of the season's play, would he need to eschew his multi-million dollar salary in order to take a six-week leave to clear his head and regain balance? Would he be forced to use his savings to pay his bills and care for his family while he recuperates? Would some portion of his astronomical salary be withheld? That baseball player, handsomely compensated for his work (which, in my mind, bestows precious little benefit on humanity), will have little difficulty making ends meet while he rests and recuperates.

Furthermore, as an individual appreciated and respected far above the nurses, social workers, factory workers and teachers who are truly a part of the backbone of the society, the athlete in question will have no fear of income loss as a result of his temporary disability. In fact, a guest appearance on Oprah or a Newsweek expose on the psychological stresses of professional sports would most likely be in order. Our athlete suffers in ways which may actually enhance his career.

On the other hand, take a burned-out nurse like myself and consider my options. While I may have the Family Medical Leave Act to allow me up to 12 weeks unpaid time off, short-term disability insurance does not allow for disability for mental health or substance abuse. In fact, many long-term disability insurance policies also exclude a mental health benefit. Parity for those suffering from mental health-related injury are basically left out in the cold.

The conundrum is thus: if I injured my hand at work caring for a patient, workers' compensation would be a no-brainer. But if I injure my soul at work? I'm on my own.

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