A Deeper Freeze: Extreme Temperatures and Mental Health Disability Leaves

As the polar vortex in January illustrated, events related to climate change have tremendous capacity to disrupt business operations. For some companies, productivity losses will continue if severe weather contributes to increased disability leaves from work. Disability leaves for mental health conditions may be of special concern.

Study highlights

  • Certain types of mental health claims may be more common at colder temperatures. Disability claims for acute stress reactions tend to decrease as temperatures rise from extreme lows. Claims rates for depression are highest at lower temperatures, and show a slight increase as temperatures reach higher extremes. Anxiety claims show no obvious association with temperature.
  • Some other types of conditions respond to changes in the weather. Claims rates for cerebrovascular disease tend to fall at extreme low temperatures, while respiratory infections—which are most most prevalent at lower temperatures—exhibit some decrease at higher temperatures.
  • The findings of this analysis suggest that employers should anticipate an increase in some types of mental health disability claims in the wake of extremely low temperatures. Employers can expedite their return to productivity by incorporating coordinated absence management policies and employee assistance programs as part of their disaster recovery strategy, and by ensuring that employee benefits facilitate access to mental health benefits.