A woman who was receiving extended sick leave benefits due to depression has had those benefits revoked by her insurance company. Why? Because they found photographs on her Facebook page in which she appeared to be enjoying herself:
Nathalie Blanchard, 29, has been on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., for the last year and a half after she was diagnosed with major depression.
The Eastern Townships woman was receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife, her insurance company, but the payments dried up this fall.
When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that “I’m available to work, because of Facebook,” she told CBC News this week.
She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.
Blanchard said she notified Manulife that she was taking a trip, and she’s shocked the company would investigate her in such a manner and interpret her photos that way.
“In the moment I’m happy, but before and after I have the same problems” as before, she said.
Even better, it would seem that the insurance company didn’t only use Facebook photos as a diagnostic tool, they also may have hacked her account to obtain them:
She also doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.
Nice work, that is.
Now, Blanchard lives in Canada (and was receiving the benefits in question not through Medicare, but through her employer’s insurance). So while indeed another example of insurance companies being evil, I have no real intent on attempting to tie this into the current U.S. health care debate.
What I’m a lot more interested in at the moment is how stereotypes about disability/mental illness are constantly utilized in attempts to expose the “fakers” — and how the fact that they’re used in this way by people in positions of authority only reinforces the idea that the stereotypes must be true.
When it comes to disability, able-bodied people tend to have an idea of what disability “looks like.” This results in proclamations about who is really disabled and who is really faking it (presumably, for all of the awesome government benefits that are inadequate to live on, and the fun social stigma). And for the person being proclaimed a faker, that frequently means not only the hurt of having their identity and lived experience dismissed, but also the denial of accommodations that they need.
Mental illness is no exception to this rule: people think they know what it looks like, that they can spot a person with a mental illness a mile away, and that if a person doesn’t live up to those expectations, they’re either seeking benefits they “don’t deserve,” or seeking attention. And with regards to depression specifically (as it’s the topic of the original article, and my greatest knowledge base), they tend to think that if someone isn’t spending all of their time crying, frowning, or refusing to get out of bed, they can’t possibly have it.
This makes me exceedingly angry. As someone who has lived with depression to varying, waxing and waning degrees for over 10 years now, I know from firsthand experience that there are a whole lot of ways to be depressed. Logically, I can only assume that there are also many other ways that I have not personally experienced. And yes, the unable to stop crying, unable to smile, unable to get out of bed kind of depression is very, very real. But it’s not the only kind. Most of the times I have been depressed, I have been able to smile, under certain circumstances. I have been able to enjoy myself, laugh, and have fun, when my mental state and the situation are right. I’ve also learned that I can be really, really good at putting on a happy face and pretending that I’m not depressed for the benefit of other people, even if I’m particularly unwell — indeed, I’ve learned that doing as much is expected of me.
And the claim that the type of depression where these things are true is not real depression is denying people — who have significant trouble finding happiness to begin with — whatever happiness they can find, in order to be recognized. It’s saying that people with mental illnesses cannot ever have fun or enjoy life under any circumstances. And it’s also telling people that their options for being believed, acknowledged, and accommodated are to “get better” or to start acting more miserable.
In addition to the emotional costs, which I clearly think are very important in their own right, there can be other major costs, as well — whether they be a loss of financial assistance, as above, or a loss of ability to receive treatment, a loss of familial support, and so on. These can all have serious repercussions on a person’s mental health, on their quality of life, and in some cases can result in physical injury or death.
Financial savings, which are obviously going to be the insurance company’s motivation, are not all this is about, here. As we can see with people defending the insurance company in the article’s comments, it’s also about separating oneself from people with mental illnesses — again, with the belief that you can size up a person’s mental health status just by looking at them — and maintaining a prejudiced worldview. And the insurance company’s decision, made from a position of presumed expertise and authority, has only reinforced the ignorant and bigoted misconceptions that people already held.
Just like the people who claim that the woman using the word rape to describe what violence her boyfriend inflicted on her is “making a mockery of real rape,” people also claim that those like Blanchard are “minimizing the realities of people with real mental health issues.” But no, actually. In both cases, the society that supports those kinds of dismissive statements is doing a fine job of that all on its own.
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