Workers’ Compensation for Mental Impairments: Yes, But Not For Stress

Over the past few decades, physicians, insurers, employers, and society at large have made great strides in recognizing the prevalence and very real effects of mental illness. Destigmatizing mental illness and ensuring that treatment is available for those who need it has led to the law in insurance and other areas to handle claims for psychological disorders and care at an equivalent level as it does physical impairments.

Under New Mexico’s workers’ compensation law, certain kinds of mental impairments arising out of and in the course of employment can qualify a worker to receive benefits. It is important to note, however, that while almost all of us at some point in our lives deal with work-related stress, anxiety, and other similar issues arising from the pressure of our jobs, such ordinary or even extreme emotional stress will not be covered in most cases.

In New Mexico, the law recognizes two kinds of mental illnesses that can qualify as an “impairment” for purposes of qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits:

“Primary Mental Impairment”

As defined in NM Stat §52-1-24, a primary mental impairment means a mental illness arising from an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment when the accidental injury involves no physical injury and consists of a traumatic event that is generally outside of a worker’s usual experience and would evoke significant symptoms of distress in a worker in similar circumstances, but is not an event in connection with disciplinary, corrective or job evaluation action or cessation of the worker’s employment.

For example, if a worker witnessed the horrific death of a co-worker while on the job, and thereafter suffered from a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, that would likely qualify as a primary mental impairment. In contrast, any mental illness that allegedly arises from being chewed out by your boss, being demoted, getting fired, or otherwise facing negative consequences or feedback regarding your job performance is explicitly excluded from eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits.

“Secondary Mental Impairment”

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been out of work or suffered a serious and debilitating injury that depression and similar emotional disorders often accompany such traumas. A “secondary mental impairment” applies to such circumstances and is defined as a mental illness resulting from a physical impairment caused by an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment.

As with any other work-related injury, a mental impairment must be diagnosed by a qualified physician or health care provider. Additionally, if a worker develops a secondary mental impairment after suffering a physical injury, the worker may be entitled to TTD benefits as long as he has not reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) for either the physical or mental condition. Mental impairment benefits also may not be included in any lump sum settlement. They must continue to be paid periodically.

If you are seeking workers’ compensation benefits arising out of a work-related mental illness and have questions or need assistance obtaining those benefits, speak with a qualified New Mexico workers’ compensation attorney.

The Law Offices of Jeffrey C. Brown: Fighting for New Mexico Workers

We know how hard you work, and we’ll work just as hard for you. Call the Law Offices of Jeffrey C. Brown & Derek Thompson today at (505) 275-6600 or fill out our online form to arrange for your free initial consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation matter. We look forward to helping you get back on your feet, and back to work.

This website has been prepared by the Law Offices of Jeffrey C. Brown for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.