According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide — it affects more than 300 million people globally. In Canada, by the time a person turns 40, there is a 50% chance that he or she has, or has had, a mental illness.
Thankfully, Canadian law and disability insurance policies generally recognize that depression can be a disability, providing Canadians with critical resources when depression prevents them from working.
But that recognition doesn’t mean proving entitlement to those benefits is always easy. Instead, there are often practical and evidentiary obstacles that stand in the way of making a disability claim based on depression or another mental illness. This article explores some of those difficulties.
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Practical Difficulties in Proving Depression
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, common symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
- Change in weight or appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Low energy or fatigue without significant physical exertion
- Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
Unfortunately, these symptoms can be “invisible” to outside observers. Unlike a physical scar, broken bone, or runny nose, which are symptoms of a physical injury or illness, the symptoms of depression can be entirely subjective — unavailable to outside observation. A person may know that he or she is depressed, and his or her doctor may know, but coworkers and bosses may not see the signs.
Even worse, the symptoms of depression can be misinterpreted by others. For example, if a person gains weight because he or she is depressed, others may misinterpret the cause as a lack of self-control. Low energy and poor concentration are often attributed to general laziness. These misunderstandings can lead to social stigma, isolating the depressed individual and exacerbating those feelings.
In addition, the symptoms of depression can themselves discourage a person from seeking or continuing medical care or pursuing a disability claim. The low energy and feelings of helplessness or worthlessness that often signal depression can be an insurmountable obstacle on the road to recovery.
Evidentiary Difficulties in Proving Depression
In addition to the practical difficulties in proving depression in a disability claim, it can also be difficult to gather the evidence necessary to support the claim or rebut the insurance company’s inevitably contrary findings for those who have not experienced the process before.
Building an Affirmative Case
Because depression’s symptoms are so often subjective and easy to misinterpret, compiling evidence for depression and its effect on daily activities requires a thoughtful and concerted effort. To help those facing a depression-based disability claim, we recommend the following steps:
- Keep a journal of any symptoms: How well are you sleeping? Have your habits, including your diet, changed? Do you feel fatigued despite not engaging in strenuous activity?
- Discuss your symptoms with your doctor. If a symptom persists, discuss it each time you see your doctor. This builds a “paper trail” that the insurance company will have a hard time arguing against. Most importantly, continue to see your doctor. If you stop, the insurance company may argue that that proves you are no longer disabled.
- Ask your friends, family, and other collateral witnesses to keep a journal similar to yours recording their observations of and interactions with you.
It is also important to consult with a knowledgeable disability lawyer in Ontario as soon as possible. A lawyer can interpret any applicable insurance policies and help compile the evidence needed to prove a disability. He or she can also help by obtaining expert testimony, which can make the difference between a claim’s success or failure.
Rebutting Insurers’ Negative Case
But even with such affirmative evidence, the insurance company will often try to build a contrary case to justify cutting off disability benefits, such as by claiming that a person is no longer disabled, but instead malingering.
One way insurers try to do this is to require an examination by a doctor other than a person’s regular doctor. The insurance company expects that this independent examiner, who does not have the benefit of having observed the patient over time, will conclude that he or she can return to work.
So, even after a person builds an affirmative case for his or her disability claim, he or she may still need to rebut the evidence developed by the insurance company. Here, too, hiring a disability lawyer can make a dramatic difference: The conclusions drawn by insurers’ medical examiners aren’t always supported by the evidence their examination provides.
Disability Claims for Depression Don’t Have to Be Hard
Throughout this article, we’ve discussed “difficulties” that may exist in proving that depression has resulted in a disability. But we should emphasize that building that case doesn’t have to be hard. By keeping up with medical treatments, working with a disability lawyer, and developing the kinds of evidence discussed above, a person can make the process of qualifying for disability benefits much more streamlined.
Preszler Law Firm is a disability law firm in Toronto that helps clients suffering from depression and other mental-health issues obtain the benefits they deserve under an insurance policy or government program. If you or a loved one has become disabled as a result of depression, contact our lawyers today for a free consultation and insight into how you can build the strongest case possible for your disability claim.