Psychological Distress in Workers’ Compensation Claimants: Prevalence, Predictors and Mental Health Service Use


Purpose To determine the prevalence and predictors of psychological distress among injured and ill workers and their mental health service use. Methods Cross-sectional national survey of adults with work-related musculoskeletal or mental health conditions, accepted workers’ compensation claims and at least 1 day off work. Psychological distress was measured using the Kessler-6 scale. Mental health service use was measured using self-report. Results A total of 3755 workers were included in the study (Musculoskeletal disorder = 3160; Mental health condition = 595). Of these, 1034 (27.5%) and 525 (14.0%) recorded moderate and severe psychological distress, respectively. Multivariate ordinal logistic regression revealed that being off work, poor general health, low work ability, financial stress, stressful interactions with healthcare providers and having diagnosed mental health conditions had the strongest associations with presence of psychological distress. Of the subgroup with musculoskeletal disorders and psychological distress (N = 1197), 325 (27.2%) reported accessing mental health services in the past four weeks. Severe psychological distress, being off work, worse general health and requiring support during claim were most strongly associated with greater odds of service use. Conclusions The prevalence of psychological distress among workers’ compensation claimants is high. Most workers with musculoskeletal disorders and psychological distress do not access mental health services. Screening, early intervention and referral programs may reduce the prevalence and impact of psychological distress.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from Safe Work Australia but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. Data are however available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of Safe Work Australia and the Australian state, territory and Commonwealth workers compensation regulatory authorities.


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This project was funded by Safe Work Australia and Worksafe Victoria through a grant to the first named author (AC). This publication uses data supplied by Safe Work Australia and has been compiled in collaboration with Australian state, territory and Commonwealth workers’ compensation regulators. The views expressed are the authors and are not necessarily the views of Safe Work Australia or the state, territory and Commonwealth workers’ compensation regulators.

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AC conceived the study and drafted the manuscript. LS conducted the analysis. All authors reviewed the data analysis, contributed to manuscript preparation and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alex Collie.

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Collie, A., Sheehan, L., Lane, T.J. et al. Psychological Distress in Workers’ Compensation Claimants: Prevalence, Predictors and Mental Health Service Use. J Occup Rehabil 30, 194–202 (2020).

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  • Workers’ compensation
  • Musculoskeletal diseases
  • Mental health
  • Health services