Insurance Companies Are Not Qualified to Make Medical Diagnoses

Canada’s CBC News reports on a Quebec woman with severe depression, Nathalie Blanchard, being denied sick-leave benefits after her insurer, Manulife, found pictures of her on Facebook smiling and engaging in social activities.

I’ve been going to Depression/Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) meetings for over a year now, in Los Angeles and Maine. (Think of a support group, then subtract the woo, jargon, god and other b.s.) I have my own experiences with depression, and I know people who’ve had it far worse.

According to the article, Blanchard is diagnosed with major depression. A running joke in DBSA groups is that you can tell the new people with depression from those with bipolar because they crack the most jokes. Without the high and low cycles of bipolar, one tends to grasp at any moment of levity that can be attained or generated. There’s a common misconception that depression is a flat, constant low mood. This is rare. Typically one varies between extreme lows and more functional periods, with stops everywhere in between. One also gets very good at faking it for short periods of time.

Meds aren’t a magic bullet either, more a set of blunt tools whose effects on any given person will be highly variable. Beginning treatment often means a period of medication roulette, where the prescriber and patient work to balance efficacy, side-effects and (in the U.S. at least) costs. In the long term, lifestyle adjustments, especially increased social involvement, are essential.

The bottom line is, if Blanchard wants to return to the working world, she’s been doing exactly what she should be.

Manulife Insurance, on the other hand, took a very small risk, which makes perfect market sense. The chances of Blanchard fighting back the way she has were slim, and the financial savings for the company miniscule but real. Faced with the loss of their emergency income, many people with major depression would have retreated further into their shells. Some might have attempted suicide.

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