How I was treated when I needed long-term disability coverage
Reprinted from "Stigma" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(6), p. 24
I was working for a large chemical waste company as a plant foreman and an on-site union representative. I had worked there for about seven years and had climbed the ladder well. It was the kind of job that everyone considers, these days, very secure. It paid well, I was a senior man and I had security, benefits, pension - the whole bit - but in the end, none of it helped.
I was diagnosed with depression in my early 20s, but at work I had the ability to hide it well and I held on for a long time. Every day I would go to work and hang on, and then I'd pretty much just go home and sleep. I had no energy left. As time went on, it got worse and worse. The politics and stress at the company didn't help.
I kept trying to battle my symptoms by working night and day. One day I had a meltdown. I broke down in tears and just couldn't cope with it at all anymore. They had one of the Health and Safety guys take me to the doctor.
Some of my co-workers were somewhat standoffish, some were suppor-tive, others looked at me and thought that it was just a scam; that I was just trying to get time off - ironic since who wants to be labelled with mental illness?
It's interesting to me how there can be people who are so well educated and yet just can't comprehend the devastation that depression causes. There's a serious lack of understanding out there. To this day, it's a thing that I don't share with people except for close friends; even some of my family doesn't understand. Well-meaning people would like to, but they just don't have a full appreciation.
The company itself was self-insured for short-term disability, and that was for three months, then you applied for long-term disability through theprivate insurer. When I was off on short-term, I was told by the company to apply for long-term and to do it right away. I said no; that I wanted to come back to work.
When I did return to work, I was just thrown into the melting pot. It was basically like nothing had happened; nobody wants to talk about these things so I just went right back to assume my regular duties. Half a day later, I was shaking and sweating and in tears again. When I was taken, again, to the hospital, I realized that I had to apply for long-term coverage. That's when the whole dilemma started.
I had never before submitted a claim to the insurer. Frankly, I didn't think that there would be any question as far as being covered. I had been diagnosed a decade or two before, and they had actually denied me group life insurance through the company because of my illness. And yet, when I had to go off of work, the same company denied my claim saying that I didn't have an illness; that it was just work-related stress. So it's ironic that the same company is telling me two different things.
What angers me the most about it is that I just wanted to get back to work. That's all I wanted to do. I wasn't trying to scam anybody. All I wanted was help to get back on my feet.
It was about three years after I applied and the court date was approaching that they finally had a psychiatrist come and interview me. Their own psychiatrist admitted that, had the insurer just paid the benefits to keep my family afloat while I re-covered, I would have beenback to work long before.
In the end, there was a settlement, but the damage was done. Basically, it was far too little too late. To this day, I'm still trying to recover from it. I lost my marriage and had to sell everything I owned just to keep my family in the house, just to pay the bills and cover the rent. I had three children and I'd always been the supporter. A month before I went off of work, we had been pre-approved for a mortgage, we had a down payment, my credit rating was good, bills were always paid in advance. And through all of this, I lost everything. I honestly thought we were going to end up on the streets.
It's like if somebody has a cold, you don't stick them in a refrigeration unit and tell them to get better. I was down. I was down as far as you could go, and I couldn't get back up - and it wasn't for lack of trying. I did everything I could, but antidepressants alone aren't enough. The last thing anybody needs when they're down like that is more financial trouble and creditors phoning.
A stable income is important to everybody. To this day, I don't want to be rich; it doesn't matter to me to be rich whatsoever. All I want to do is pay my bills and support my family - and when that's disrupted, you feel like a failure as a father, and others view you as such. All you want to do is get better. You don't need a fight when that's going on. It's the last thing anybody needs.
About the author
Max lives in Delta. The following is adapted from a transcript of a live interview with Max about difficulties accessing workplace disability insurance. He was interviewed for a documentary made by the Canadian Mental Health Association's BC Division. The documentary was released in February 2005 as an adjunct to a 2004 report on the same topic. To access the report and the documentary online, and to see other people?s stories as well as recommendations for employees, employers and the insurance industry, see www.cmha.bc.ca/advocacy/insurance