Emotional distress, like many other conditions with no outwardly visible symptoms, can be hard to prove. When employers, friends, family members, or even medical professionals don’t seem to take your mental turmoil seriously, it can leave you feeling alone and more emotionally distressed than ever.

Emotional distress is not in itself a specific medical condition but a broad term that may refer to any significant mental anguish that can take on a variety of forms and manifest as a variety of symptoms. While some suffer chronic emotional distress as part of their overall mental health, it can often be brought on by especially stressful circumstances, such as relationship problems, financial instability, grief after the loss of a loved one, or any other stressful situation. Emotion-affecting stress can certainly be caused by a traumatic event, like a car crash or assault. Still, it can also be caused by less dramatic forms of long-term or repetitive stress, such as the stress that results from dealing with a toxic workplace environment day after day.

If you’re suffering from life-altering emotional distress due to a workplace issue, you may be entitled to compensation much like any other injured worker. A qualified employment law attorney can review your case to determine the appropriate legal strategy for pursuing a claim.

How to prove emotional distress at work

Identifying Emotional Distress – Signs and Symptoms

Because “emotional distress” is an umbrella term that can apply to all sorts of stressful situations, its potential symptoms are extremely varied. Some common ones include:

  • Constant or near-constant worrying, especially about matters beyond your direct control
  • Feelings of isolation and disconnection from friends, family, work, community, etc.
  • Overwhelmed or hopeless feelings
  • Inability to focus (sometimes to the extent that you are unable to perform daily tasks)
  • Changes in mood, such as uncharacteristic irritability or anger
  • Disruptions to normal mental function (logical thought processes, memory, etc.)
  • Persistent, irrational feelings of guilt or shame
  • Trouble sleeping/sleeping too much/inability to maintain a regular, healthy sleep pattern
  • Aches and pains with no physical explanation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Turning to vices for distraction/satisfaction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, overeating, etc.)
  • Chronic fatigue

When the symptoms of emotional distress persist over a long period and go untreated, they may become, or contribute to, serious, lasting mental health issues like PTSD and clinical depression. When you find yourself in a toxic cycle causing you to repeatedly suffer emotional distress, break the cycle and protect yourself. Seek support from trusted people in your life, and get psychiatric and legal assistance, if needed.

It’s important to note the symptoms of emotional distress may manifest on a regular basis, in persistent cycles, or over a particular period during, or in the aftermath of, a stressful event. Struggles with emotional and mental health are extremely personal by their very nature, and every person’s journey to a brighter and healthier tomorrow will look different. If part of your path to healing involves taking legal action against an employer who has wronged you and injured you emotionally, California Employment Counsel is standing by to assist.

Proving Emotional Distress in Court

If you intend to seek damages from an employer or some other party for inflicting emotional distress upon you, there is a standard of proof that must be met in a court of law. This can be a tricky prospect for many mental and emotional health matters because there is often no visible or quantifiable evidence of the damage done. Someone who has had their mental health harmed by persistent emotional distress does not bear visible scars, for example, nor can emotional distress be documented with a blood test or x-ray.

There are several things you and your attorney must demonstrate to a judge to prove that you have suffered emotional distress on a legally actionable level. They are as follows:

  1. Symptoms – document every symptom of your emotional distress and the time at which you experienced it. This homework can be overwhelming to someone already going through mental turmoil. However, a clear record of when your issues began and how long they persisted will be crucial when taking the matter before a court of law to determine whether they were caused by an on-the-job incident or workplace condition. Seek help from a medical or psychiatric professional for these symptoms and keep copies of any records of those treatments along with your own notes.
  2. Intensity – in any personal injury claim, the court must factor the severity of your injury into any resulting settlement or court order. Under California law, only “severe” emotional distress qualifies for legal action. Here, “severe” is defined as emotional distress so prolonged or substantial that no reasonable person could be expected to bear it. If emotional distress affects your day-to-day routine, document those disruptions in detail. Keep copies of any related doctor’s or therapist’s records. Make all this documentation available to your attorney.
  3. Health Effects – there are not always physical components to severe emotional distress, but it can be a helpful piece of the puzzle when demonstrating to the court the severity of the issue. Headaches, other unexplained pains, rapid changes in weight, gastrointestinal discomfort, and panic attacks are some examples of issues that can go hand-in-hand with emotional distress. Again, have any relevant health effects checked out and documented by a medical professional.
  4. Cause – proving the true root cause of your mental anguish is of primary importance when you’re making a claim that your emotional distress warrants a payout from your employer or other party responsible for your emotional injury. The more clearly your emotional distress can be linked to a triggering event, the better your case will be.
  5. The Defendant’s Conduct – Linking your emotional distress to a triggering event is the first step, but you must also clearly link this triggering event to wrongdoing or negligence by the other party. For an emotional distress claim to be legally actionable in California, the plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant’s conduct which caused the emotional distress was either reckless or willfully malicious. The documentation you’ve collected needs to include any relevant communication between you and your employer or other party.

You Don’t Need to Suffer in Silence – California Employment Counsel Can Help

If a traumatic workplace incident or persistently toxic working environment has caused you severe, prolonged feelings of shame, anxiety, humiliation, fear, or other form of mental anguish, contact our firm. You may be entitled to damages like any other wrongfully injured employee. The experienced employment law team at California Employment Counsel can review your case and devise a winning legal strategy to protect your rights, your livelihood, and your mental health. Contact us through our website to begin the consultation process.