J. Multidiscip. Res. Healthcare

Psychological Injuries at Work - What Every Manager Should Know

A T Resmi, Mercy Mathew, Gemini V J and Paul Silvian S

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Psychological injury, stress, distress, workplace stress, India

PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2014. This article is published with open access at www.chitkara.edu.in/publications

A psychological injury is a diagnosable illness that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state and behavior. It can disrupt their ability to work and carry out other daily activities, and to engage in satisfying personal relationships. Unlike a physical injury, a psychological injury cannot be easily recognized and understood. This research document is a conceptual work, which tries to define and isolate stress and stress related injuries, as well as psychological injuries at work. Such an understanding would help the top management to cater and prevent injuries of such extent. Based on literature, a model has been developed for the study and the research document has defined “Psychological injury as an employee’s explicit manifestation of distress in the form of affective behavioral and cognitive dysfunction in work context”. This research document can be considered a seminal work done in Indian context. This works gains importance in the light of increasing number of lawsuits in Indian courts on work- related stress and agony. India still does not have any laws that deal with emotional health and stress related injuries at work or psychological injuries as compared to other countries like Canada, U.K and the U.S


Work place resilience has become a buzz word in psychologists’ vocabulary, owing to the increased stress one has to tackle in the ever demanding face of competition. This makes resilience a salient concept worthy of analyzing while unraveling the effects of work place stress. Coping, resilience and vulnerability are three dimensions of effective stress management. Stress exposure, is known to precipitate psychopathological disorders. Stressful events are part of everyday life and only a select population of individuals develops stress-induced pathologies, elucidating the biological basis of individual differences in stress vulnerability or resiliency and coping strategies. Research suggests that passive coping during a stressful life event is associated with the development of stress-induced depression, whereas proactive coping is correlated with resiliency. It is important to understand and gain insight from occupational psychology and health literature, which examines predominantly the differing and interacting effects of workplace stressors and “stress” (or can be termed as “common mental disorder”), performance, health, and absenteeism. Secondly such studies would throw light on the epidemiological associations between functioning, often as “disability”, and psychiatric disorders that are caused by stressful situations.

It is not a surprise that the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM -V) had to add stress and stress related problems as a separate category, with specific symptoms and diagnostic criteria. New sets of thoughts are also coming up, like occupational stress that act as a precedent for many other mental disorders like anxiety, clinical depression and even psychosis. Stress is defined in terms of its physical and physiological effects on a person, and can be a mental, physical or emotional strain. Occupational stress can occur when there is a discrepancy between the demands of the environment/workplace and an individual’s ability to carry out and complete these demands. A variety of factors contribute to workplace stress such as negative workload, isolation, extensive hours worked, toxic work environments, lack of autonomy, difficult relationships among coworkers and management, management bullying, harassment and lack of opportunities or motivation to advancement in one’s skill level etc. Acute stress disorder (ASD) was introduced in DSM-IV as a new diagnosis to describe acute stress reactions (ASRs) that may precede posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New researchers have tried to classify such disorders under psychological injuries at work. Post traumatic stress disorder has found to be a result of occupational stress in many studies. Other categories of work place disorders are “work place phobia”, generalized anxiety syndrome, occupational neurosis, somatoform disorders etc.

Before ruling out this attempt as a medical/ psychology related research, it is vital to understand the reactive effects of stress on individuals. There are proved researches that claim that stress in organization can lead to severe mental disorders also like, depression, mania and suicidal tendencies etc. There have been cases ever since in Australian courts claiming psychological and psychiatric injuries at the work place and have clubbed it under the broad area of psychological injuries arising from any stress at work place. Such claims have included circumstances involving a less traumatic, but none the less still damaging, stressor arising in the workplace, such as bullying, stress from overwork etc. ‘Stress’ is a generic term that is widely used in society to describe the feeling that some people might have in response to pressures that they face in their lives. In the workplace context, it is a term often used to describe the responses that may develop when people are subjected to demands and expectations that are out of keeping with their needs, abilities, skills and coping strategies. Some of the major psychiatric/ psychological injuries that are a result of stress are depression, anxiety and neuroses. These could be a resultant of prolonged or excessive exposure to demanding, stressful stimuli, such as work-related factors and/or critical incidents. Mostly psychological injuries develop over a long period of time. The body mechanisms that work when initially faced with stressful stimuli is the release of hormones that increase the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and muscle tensions which create a state of mental and physical arousal in anticipation as a response reaction. If stimuli are extended and excessive, the body attempts to adapt to the change, but a prolonged period of over adaptations can be detrimental since it can cause exhaustion and provide little opportunity for the body to recover from its stressed state. This prolonged stress can make an individual susceptible to psychological injury which also causes, physical ailments, such as headaches, back & neck strain, nausea and constipation (known examples of somatoform disorders).

Much literature in the West, deals with the topic focused on employer’s liability and statutory compliances to be maintained at the work place. India is foreseen to be the largest contributor to the global work force, with a working age population (1559 years) is likely to increase from 749 million to 962 million over 2010 to 3030. With such spiking work population to control, India still does not have any laws to deal with emotional stress at work or psychological injuries as compared to other countries like Canada, U.K and the U. S. Taking cues from U.S, laws pertaining to compensations for mental stress, can be divided into two sections, mental- physical injuries and mental - mental injuries.

Page(s) 43–52
URL http://dspace.chitkara.edu.in/jspui/bitstream/1/573/3/11004_JMRH_Thomas.pdf
ISSN Print : 2393-8536, Online : 2393-8544
DOI https://doi.org/10.15415/jmrh.2014.11004

The following is an excerpt of a case in Delhi High court, printed in the Indian Express May, 14, 2013. “A Delhi court has awarded over Rs two lakh compensation to a woman who claimed she was sacked by a private firm after she demanded maternity leave of three months on full pay basis. Holding that the complainant Ritu Verma and her child had suffered physical and mental agony due to the “illegal” termination of her employment, “The arbitrary and illegal decision of termination of services of plaintiff, has been forced upon the plaintiff when she was at final stage of her pregnancy, she was harassed, suffered ample physical and mental stress and agony, which has also been suffered by her child.”

It is time that Indian Government, policy makers as well as employers understand the negative impact of stress and associated psychological injuries, so that a major revamp can be made in the Health and Safety legislation in India. Also such an understanding would help the top management to cater and prevent injuries of such extent. Thus this paper tries to define and isolate stress and stress related injuries, as well as psychological injuries at work. Therefore the paper tries to define “Psychological injury as an employee’s explicit manifestation of distress in the form of affective behavioral and cognitive dysfunction in work context”.

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