Illinois Workers' Compensation: Claims for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Issues

Illinois law gives you the right to seek workers’ comp for mental health issues, but only in certain circumstances.

By , Attorney · UCLA School of Law

From toxic bosses and impossible deadlines to traumatic events like workplace shootings, your job can be hard on your mental health.

While all work-related mental health issues deserve to be taken seriously, not all are covered by workers' compensation laws.

As a general rule, workers' comp allows employees to recover lost income and medical expenses when they suffer an injury or illness stemming from their job. Unlike workplace physical injuries, however, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be harder to measure objectively, and it can be difficult to prove that they are work-related.

For these reasons, some states do not allow workers' comp coverage for psychological injuries. Illinois does offer mental health coverage—but the law imposes limits on when you're entitled to recover benefits.

Illinois Workers' Comp Law on Psychological Injuries

In Illinois, employees are entitled to workers' comp benefits for psychological injuries, but only in certain circumstances. Illinois workers' comp law recognizes three types of workplace psychological injuries:

  • Physical/Mental: a physical injury causes a psychological injury,
  • Mental/Physical: psychological stress causes a physical injury, and
  • Mental/Mental: a psychological trauma causes a psychological injury.

If your claim falls into one of these categories, you're entitled to seek workers' comp benefits. But whether your workers' comp claim is successful depends heavily on the type of psychological injury you've sustained and the specific facts of your case. Mental/mental injuries are the hardest to prove, followed by mental/physical, and finally physical/mental.

Regardless of which category your case falls into, you're more likely to recover workers' comp benefits for a mental health condition in Illinois if:

  • a mental health professional has diagnosed you with the condition (because not all workplace stress rises to the level of a psychological injury or mental health disorder), and
  • you can prove that your mental health issues were caused by your work, rather than arising from a preexisting psychological condition or personal problems such as financial troubles or family conflict.

Let's take a closer look at each of the types of psychological injuries for which you can seek workers' comp benefits in Illinois.

Workers' Comp Benefits for Mental Health Issues Stemming from a Physical Injury

Illinois workers' comp law allows you to seek benefits when you suffer a psychological injury stemming from a work-related physical injury. You're entitled to benefits regardless of whether your mental health condition occurred during or after the physical injury.

An example of this type of injury would be an employee who falls off a ladder at work, sustains serious back injuries, and develops severe depression as a result. Another example would be an employee who is involved in a car accident while driving for work and, as a result, suffers both physical injuries and PTSD.

Proving this type of physical/mental claim is generally no more difficult than proving a claim for a purely physical injury. To do so, you don't need to show that your physical injury was the only cause of your psychological injury; you simply need to prove that it was one factor in causing your mental health issues.

In addition, the physical injury that causes your mental health condition doesn't need to be particularly severe or even result in objective evidence of harm (such as bruising)—it's enough that you've sustained even minor physical contact.

Workers' Comp Benefits for Physical Injuries Stemming from Mental Distress

You're also entitled to workers' comp benefits when you suffer work-related psychological stress that results in a physical injury. An example of this type of injury would be work stress that results in a heart attack or ulcers.

This type of mental/physical claim is harder to prove than a physical/mental claim. To do so successfully, you typically need to show that:

  • your work stress was higher than the normal stress experienced by the general public, and
  • it's more probable than not that your work stress was a factor in causing your physical injury.

You may be able to recover even if you have a preexisting condition, such as cardiovascular disease, as long as you can prove that your abnormal work stress was a contributing factor in causing your physical injury. Expert medical testimony can be particularly useful in this situation to help prove causation.

Workers' Comp Benefits for Purely Mental or Psychological Injuries

You're also entitled to benefits in Illinois when you suffer purely psychological injuries with no physical component. These mental/mental injuries occur when a work-related psychological stimulus causes a psychological injury. Examples of this type of injury include mental health conditions that result from extraordinary situations such as workplace shootings, robberies, or witnessing another employee sustain severe physical harm.

Workers' comp claims for purely psychological injuries are more challenging to prove. To prevail on your claim, you usually need to demonstrate that:

  • your psychological injury was caused by a sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to an extraordinary event, and
  • this work-related traumatic event was the primary cause of your psychological injury, not just one of many factors that caused your injury.

Even if you work in a profession where highly stressful or traumatic events are a "normal" part of the job—as is the case for police officers, firefighters, and other first responders—you can still recover workers' comp benefits if you prove that your mental health condition was caused by a work-related severe emotional shock.

Generally speaking, you can't recover workers' comp benefits in Illinois for mental health conditions that develop over time due to normal, day-to-day work stress. However, you may be able to recover benefits if your mental health condition was caused by a series of abnormal work stressors.

An example of such atypical work stressors would be a combination of repeated verbal abuse, threats of violence, and witnessing violence against others. Examples of work conditions that likely would not qualify as abnormal are arguments with coworkers or employer disciplinary actions.

As with a single, traumatic event, to prevail on a claim based on a series of abnormal work stressors, you need to show that the work stressors were the primary cause of your mental health condition.

Hire a Workers' Comp Attorney

Because workers' comp claims are often contested, they can be lengthy and complex. This is especially true for cases involving psychological injuries, as they are less straightforward than on-the-job physical injuries.

A workers' comp lawyer can help you evaluate your claim, navigate the various stages of the process, and recover the benefits to which you're entitled. Most workers' comp attorneys charge a fee only if you win your case, and don't require any money up front.

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