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Last Post 02/23/2008 1:31 AM by  Crosz
Stress and Mental Health of Adjusters
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dorothys
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02/06/2008 9:47 AM

    Does anyone know of mental health services needed by or provided to claims adjusters suffering from stress related symptoms after a severe cat? I am completing my grad degree, and this is the topic for my reserach paper. I am also an adjuster who has been there and done that.

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    host
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    02/06/2008 11:37 AM

    Most of the larger companies provide Mental Health services for their employees including their Cat Teams through a "Employee Assistance Program" or similar program this includes both staff and IAs.

    Here are some links to some programs offered by IAs.

    GAB >> Employee Assistance Program

    Crawford & Company >> Employee Assistance Program

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    Leland
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    02/06/2008 2:46 PM
    This is one of those issues that people need to be educated on to overcome the "taboo" of discussing mental health. Many adjusters will suffer from some sort of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) that will get better over time (after the CAT is over) It is often undiagnosed, especially as the adjuster may not even notice the symptoms. An adjuster is often put in the role of a counselor, who is encouraged (or even ordered) to listen to the countless devasting stories of the insured. The adjuster also puts a face on the insurance company and may take the brunt of the insured's frustration with an otherwise faceless entity. This can create an emotional overload for the adjuster.The heavy work load, lack of excercise, lack of relaxation, lack of sleep etc. all contribute to this issue. One coping mechanism adjusters unconsciously employ is to become numb. After hearing story after story of lives turned upside down the adjuster may start to lose the empathy he or she first had.

    More experienced adjusters are less likely to suffer as the situation is not as much of a shock and they have better coping skills. The more experienced adjuster knows exactly how to help, and also understands and accepts the limits of his or her role, resulting in less mental stress.

    A newer adjuster may not realize or want to admit the stress in order to appear competent and avoid negative attention or being sent home early.

    I am personally convinced that over time it is not more productive to work 7 days per week than to work 6 1/2. If an adjuster doesn't take at least 1/2 day off per week for relaxation, entertainment, excercise etc. that adjuster is probably not going to be as efficient or have the work quality they should. In other words it is possible to get more done in 6 1/2 days than 7.

    After 5 months in New Orleans I finally borrowed a bicycle and went for a Sunday afternoon ride. After 6 months I went to the French Quarter for the first time. I should have done both sooner.

    If I ever do another big CAT I know I will be more productive than my last one and also carve out a little bit of time for myself.
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    Tom Toll
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    02/06/2008 5:11 PM

    I definatley suffered from this working Andrew claims. We did not have the sophisticated estimating systems back in 1992, which would have helped. 18 hour days, 7 days a week with countless problems from insureds, associations, and contractors almost drove me wacky. My wife Janice was my counselor back then and even now. She put in long hours toom but and received nasty phone calls from insureds, but she maintained herself better than I did. Driving in ridiculous traffic, getting threats constantly was about more than I could take. I had one insured pull a gun on me and demanded that I pay for items not covered. Needless to say, I told him I would submit them, which I did, as non covered items. The company was informed of this threat and told me to write the estimate and they would take care of the proof of loss. Back then we took no time off. There were just too many claims and too many demands. Having written over 30 million dollars in estimates, I was glad when that puppy was put to sleep.

    Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
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    brighton
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    02/06/2008 6:41 PM

    I was staff during Andrew and Independent during Katrina/Wilma. What a difference. Being staff has it's advantages for sure. I was in a hotel with over 200 staff adjusters. In the evening, you could hit the bar with a group and hash out the days problems, laugh and break the tension. I even met by wife there. Guess that is why she hates Miami and the name Andrew! The one very real thing was seeing adjusters going into "shell shock" where they could not focus on the job at hand just all the devistation around them. They just could not handle disasters like this. Being staff, they were sent home fast to get back to the safe confines of their home, familiar surroundings and the everyday grind. And their pay check continued. Like so many that survived to keep working that monster, you would find yourself waking up at 3 am after going to bed at midnight. Go down the halls and you could hear the adding machines going full bore in rooms.

    It is very different as an I/A. You are normally down there by yourself, or if you are luck, you significant other is there with you. You do not normally have the advantage of being with a group of your peers to discuss issues or problems. This can lead to isolation and problems. Espeically if you are new to the job and have little experience. No where to turn to for help. I was lucky that my wife was down there with me and a number of former co-workers from my old company had also left and we were able to get together once and a while for dinner and laughs. Doing it for so long, I was able to know what was in store and we could handle it. We were down in FL for over a year on K/W claims and finally had enough so we came home tired but able to survive.

    For those who are going to the independent side, if you are leaving a carrier, keep in contact with your former co-workers and find out if they are being deployed. You will have someone to talk to at the onset and will meet others. If you are in a hotel with other independents, try to get to know them and do a bar b que. Great for breaking the tensions and gathering some support as well. 

    Rocke Baker
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    BobH
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    02/06/2008 8:08 PM
    I agree with all the above - but have to say that the "juice" that keeps us going is being paid well for hard work and long hours.

    If that balance is not there, the stress will climb up your leg.

    I worked a hurricane for very long hours in 1992 for a carrier that went bankrupt... ended up getting 60 cents on the dollar a year later. Some of the carriers I worked the '94 Northridge EQ went bankrupt, and there were pay issues.

    State Farm's check's didn't bounce at Katrina, and that helped the Energizer bunny keep going.
    After 5 months in New Orleans I finally borrowed a bicycle and went for a Sunday afternoon ride
    I can relate. I was a bit east of you in Slidell, and that's around the time I started taking some Sunday's off. Actually they started asking the clean-up crew to take a day off.
    Bob H
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    dcmarlin
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    02/06/2008 10:30 PM

    My first major CAT was in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for Hugo (1989).  I took off at least one day a week to recharge.  I would go to the beach, scuba diving or whatever just to keep myself away from work for the day.  Two of us even went to Aruba for a few days. 

    I was lucky as four of us shared a house so there was always company or someone with to eat or drink.  Unfortunately, we did not have any power and lived off a generator for almost eight weeks.  As Tom said, we really did not have estimating programs back then and all estimates were written by hand.  You have to give yourself some down time or else you'll be (in the words of David Lee Roth) "going crazy from the heat." 

    Gimme a bottle of anything and a glazed donut ... to go! (DLR)
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    dorothys
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    02/07/2008 8:49 AM

    Thank you. I wonder, if there is anything in place to prepare adjusters for the experience, or "devrief" after.

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    dorothys
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    02/07/2008 8:49 AM

    I meant debrief

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    dorothys
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    02/07/2008 9:19 AM

    Thank you everyone for your responses. This is encouraging; please keep them coming. Has anyone received any  preparation prior to or any debriefing after the storm? I intend to put these responses in my paper, and present for publication. Any other input to help recognize what adjusters have experienced as "first responders". Normally, adjusters are not considered affected by disasters, but we know better. Please let me know how you handled the stress before, during and after the cat. Did anyone use an Employee Assistance Program for counseling? All responses are confidential no names will be used. I will be listing classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shortly.

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    Leland
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    02/07/2008 12:02 PM
    One thing I noticed was a small number of people who "cracked" with no obvious prior symptons. One was a person who I admired for showing mental toughness and determination in earlier challenges. He up and quit right before his signing bonus came due without telling any of his freinds what he was planning. We would have gladly supported him to get through another 3 days so he could get his signing bonus. Another individual was offered a coveted "clean up position", only to reveal that they were already at their breaking point.

    I think the CAT environment is a bit like a "macho" military environment in which people don't want to admit any weakness. My guess is that most adjusters would not feel comfortable walking in and sitting down with the company counselor where everybody in the building can see through the glass who is sitting there.

    I know that there is a better way of offering help and identifying those who need it than to announce to the open room that anybody who is messed up mentally can go see the counselor in room 6.

    Just my 2 cents.
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    Ray Hall
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    02/07/2008 1:38 PM

    I was working oil & gas rig claims in the Gulf of Mexico after Andrew on a team of three and it was about 60 hours per week at home and no stress. All of the rest were in S. Florida. I heard about the inspection dead line and the drive by inspections ( dont think this has happened since). I saw many of the adjusters at a party about Dec. 1st and most of them were `completly burned out and would not go back". never saw this before.

    I do remember on many storms feeling so guilty for having the  NFL football  game on Sunday afternoon and just wishing I did not have to make a phone call, answer the phone and working estimates or post up photos on the computer while game was on. I always resented the 7AM meetings on Sunday or the 10 AM meetings were you could not go to church and lunch for 3-4 hours. Do not miss any of the stress .... just accepted and quit an appraisal only job from one of the vendors after working  only two homeowner loss in my home county for two differant carriers. I call it my rule of "two experience."

    1. To much work for too little money, too many free miles, too many demands, too much stress for two cheap skates, to little authority to discuss insureds questions with them.

     

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    dorothys
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    02/08/2008 11:34 AM

    To everyone on the way to the tornado sites: Be careful, take breaks, get rest. (I know, time is money)

    Symptoms of PTSD:

    Behavioral:
    • Increase or decrease in activity level
    • Substance abuse of use
    • Difficulty concentrating or listening
    • Irritability, outburst of anger, frequent arguments
    • Inability to relax or rest
    • Decline in job performance, absenteeism
    • Frequent crying
    • Hyper-vigilance or excessive worry
    • Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories
    • Becoming accident prone
     
    Physical:
     
    • Gastrointestinal problems
    • Headaches, other aches and pains
    • Visual disturbances
    • Weight gain or loss
    • Sweating or chills
    • Tremors or muscle twitching
    • Being easily startled
    • Chronic fatigue or sleep disturbances
    • Immune system disorders
     
    Psychological/Emotional:
     
    • Feeling heroic, euphoric, or invulnerable
    • Denial
    • Anxiety or fear
    • Depression
    • Guilt
    • Apathy
    • Grief
     
    Thinking:
     
    • Memory problems
    • Disorientation and confusion
    • Slow thought processes; lack of concentration
    • Difficulty setting priorities or making decisions
    • Loss of objectivity
     
     
    Social:
     
    • Isolation
    • Blaming
    • Difficulty in giving or accepting support of help
    • Inability to experience pleasure or have fun
     

    STRESS PREVENTION:

    Effective stress management:
    1. familiarize yourself with signs of stress
    2. get enough rest, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy diet
    3. have a life outside of your job
    4. avoid tobacco, alcohol, drugs, excessive caffeine
    5. draw strength from faith, friends an family
    6. maintain sense of humor
    7. have a personal preparedness plan
    8. participate in training offered at your workplace
    9. get a regular physical checkup
    10. ask for help

     

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    dorothys
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    02/08/2008 11:34 AM
    Talk to me, guys, let me know what's going on where you are....
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    dorothys
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    02/08/2008 11:43 AM
    1. MORE STRESS ADVICE FOR YOU GUYS AT TORNADO SITES:

     

    1. during the crisis:
      • adhere to established safety policies and procedures
      • encourage and support coworkers
      • recognize that not having enough to do or waiting are parts of disaster mental health response
      • regular breaks after each troubling incident and after each work shift, decompress
      • practice relaxation techniques
      • eat nutritious meals, sleep and exercise
      • avoid alcohol, caffeine, drugs, tobacco
      • stay in contact with family and friends
      • pace yourself between high and low stress activities
     
     
    1. After the crisis, you may finish is a state of physical and emotional fatigue, and may feel some ambivalence about giving up the disaster role. A sense of “let-down” when it is over.
    ·        Participate in debriefing
    ·        Reconnect with family
    ·        Physical check up
    ·        Continue normal leisure activities. Stay involved in hobbies
    ·        Stress management techniques
    ·        Spirituality
    ·        Avoid drugs, alcohol, etc. seek professional substance abuse treatment
     
    KEY IS TO PREVENT AND REDUCE STRESS PRIOR TO AND DURING CRISIS
     
    Stress management is key.
    Individual approach to stress management and prevention:
    1. management of workload: set task priority and realistic work plans, waiting is part of the disaster mental health response
    2. balanced lifestyle: eat right, stay hydrated, avoid drugs, adequate sleep and rest, exercise, maintain contact with family and friends, social support
    3. stress reduction techniques: reduce physical tension by using relaxation techniques (breathing, meditation, stretching, progressive relaxation; pace self; use time off to decompress, recharge (relax, read, go out); talk about emotions and reactions with coworkers during appropriate times
    4. self-awareness: recognize early warning signals for stress and reactions; accept that you may not be able to recognize signs, or self-assess problematic stress reactions; recognize that over-identification with or feeling overwhelmed by victims’ and families’ grief and trauma may signal a need for support and consultation.; understand differences between professional helping relationships and friendships to help maintain appropriate roles and boundaries; examine personal prejudices and cultural stereotypes; recognize when one’s own experience with trauma or one’s personal history interferes with effectiveness; be aware of personal vulnerabilities and emotional reactions and the importance of team and supervisor support.
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    rorunner_77
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    02/16/2008 11:09 PM
    When deployed to a major event, the adreneline kicks in and you get in a "as my wife says, A Mode"" , You find a routine that works and everything flows. Occasionally you have to put out the fires and soothe insureds. If your timely in your reports and take the time with the insured to explain the process , it will lessen the problems later. I have found during the actual event, adreneline seems to keep you from getting sick. After all is closed and the pressure is off, I get my bootie kicked by some bug!

    One claim I was doing a walk thru prior to scoping with the insured husband and heard crying. We go into the flooded den and my wife ,who was with the wife of the insured, was letting the insured's wife cry on her shoulder. She did get the questionnaire done! You are a flood adjuster to help the insured prove his or her loss and write and close a claim under policy guidelines, to the insured's satisfaction.

    Personally, trauma has toughened my old hide. In 98: my twin was murdered, My oldest daughter killed in an accident and my father died. PS I live on cigarettes and caffine but wife is usually not far!
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    Crosz
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    02/17/2008 3:22 AM

    I had my first breakdown today.

    I was driving on my way to mountain view AK from N. Littlerock.  I was tossed a few long distant claims that i was not to excited to recieve in the first place.

    I was late for my first appointment knowing i would be late for every appointment after.  I have had a total of 8 hours of sleep in 2 days.  (5 hours the day before and 3 last night).  Knowing after typing the distance in the GPS i knew i wouldnt be able to make my last appointment. Stupidly i reschduled the appointment to the next day because he was somwhat of a screamer.  I then called the appointments after telling them i would be showing up at different times.  None were happy about it. 

    Phone was going in and out of service. By the time i got to my last reschedule, i realized i scheduled them in the complete wrong order and would be basicly running back and fourth through the entire state of AK.  I tried to calm myself down and start calling the members from scratch. Got ahold of an insured as he answered the phone saying "hello" in a sighing tone, knowing it was me. I said "hello this is.. " Call lost.  And almost imediatly after i was cut off by some pickup truck badass going 90mph through the rain.

    I ripped my schedule book basicly in half, threw my cellphone on the dashboard and crumpled every "to be scheduled" and tossed them on the floor.  after pounding the steering wheel over and over i thought it would be a good idea to pull over.

    Sitting there with my head on the steering wheel i was thinking in my head, "is this even freaking worth it"

    I am a young adjuster, 23 i started when i was 19 with charlie and ivan.  This is by far my best storm, i am having a blast doing well and actually hearing good things from the office.  but that feeling can be addicting, getting in the zone is very scary. I cought myself getting into it about 5 days ago, i was constantly calling either the insured's and office even when i didnt have to or closing a claim. I felt like i was on speed.  That is when the lack of sleep started.  Dreams about odd inspections also.  The day i felt "in the zone" is when work went uphill and started to burn out.

    I made my way to the next inspection.  nice old lady, chirping birds.. overcast clouds with a light drizzle.  No anoying dog in the backyard, it was complete silence.. Wasnt to hot, not to cold.. it was the perfect inspection lol.  it calmed me down and the lady asked me "things are getting busy arent they". I said "yea things are pretty busy".  She said "Well dont overdo it". I nodded and was calm as ever.

    I called and cancled the next 2 days to just close and organize my thoughts.  even though i could of had all my inspections done in 3 days, i figured 2 days of sleep and closing would be good for my "health!" which i had completley forggoten about.

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    ddreisbach
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    02/17/2008 11:20 AM

    I haven't heard of any assistance available through my vendor.  I've heard many second hand stories about newbies cratering on their first cat and getting drunk or driving home with their claims and checks.  The only one I've seen is the guy in Orlando standing on the roof next door in tears.  He was totally overwhelmed and had no idea what to do next.  He eventually climbed down and drove away without scoping the loss.

    I work 7am to 11pm seven days a week on a cat.  I take time for dinner and a short break every evening.  I try to get into a rhythm and just scope and close claims.  That's why I'm there.  Most of the stress is generated by conflicts with insureds and contractors, but it's nothing unexpected or difficult to handle.  The insureds have suffered a loss and are reacting to their own stress.  Also, they've heard stories about the nasty insurance companies and are dealing with them for the first time.  I find that if I can placate the insured it reduces my own stress level.  However, some people can't be satisfied no matter what you do, so I just do my best and don't let them bother me.  They'll soon be behind me.

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    okclarryd
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    02/17/2008 6:47 PM

     

    Folks,

    I think the secret to not stressing out is to manage the phone calls and appointments.

    I call everyone and schedule no more than 4 a day, in the city.  If they're scattered, I schedule less than that.  If I keep all my appointments and have some time, which happens all the time, I dig in my appointments and find the closest one.  I call them and move the appointment up to "now".

    This keeps everyone happy; keeps my head happy; keeps my head happier because I now have done one or more than I had scheduled for "today".  I just gave myself a bonus.  And, one or more insureds think I'm very good at handling their loss.

    By leaving a lot of time left over, there's time for traffic, emergencies, a__hole supervisors that couldn't measure a roof for a $100 bill; and the rest.

    I learned all of this the hard way ................................ heard about it out in the parking lot.

    Be gentle with yourself.  No one else is going to.  And, if all else fails, there's always the Jack Daniels treatment, which I can personally recommend.

     

    Larry D Hardin
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    ddreisbach
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    02/17/2008 8:41 PM
    Posted By Larry Hardin on 02/17/2008 6:47 PM

     

    Folks,

    I think the secret to not stressing out is to manage the phone calls and appointments.

    I call everyone and schedule no more than 4 a day, in the city.  If they're scattered, I schedule less than that.  If I keep all my appointments and have some time, which happens all the time, I dig in my appointments and find the closest one.  I call them and move the appointment up to "now".

     

    Amen to that!  And I tend to move up the appointment of the "squeaky wheel"; the complainer; the stress-causer because getting rid of the squeaky wheels lowers my stress level.

    Also, going against the advice of many others, I give the insureds my cell phone number.  I'd rather answer the phone and deal with the call than listen to messages and play telephone tag.  It's rarely a problem, and if someone were to become a problem I simply don't answer their calls. 

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