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Mental illness

Long-term disability claims likely to rise due to COVID-19

Thursday, April 23, 2020 @ 12:06 PM | By Brad Moscato

Brad Moscato %>
Brad Moscato
Mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent in our workplaces.

And when the world as we knew it changes in a hurry, those issues can loom larger. With a global pandemic, a challenging and potentially lethal virus, economic instability and a future that is uncertain, it is fair to say that this will in turn lead to an increase in short- and long-term disability claims across the country.

The latest pre-COVID-19 statistics indicate that one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health illness each year. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the total cost to Canada’s economy incurred by mental health problems and illnesses exceeds $50 billion annually. It’s perhaps not surprising that, according to the same report by MHCC, roughly 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental health illnesses.

That number is likely set to grow. Insurance defence lawyers who deal with long-term disability (LTD) claims expect the number to spike within six months. 

Indeed, if mental health was a concern before COVID-19, experts are sounding the alarm that there will be a significant mental health “echo effect” in the aftermath of the pandemic, whose force and depth will be felt in a myriad of ways for some time to come. 

The world we knew has changed

From social distancing regulations to store closures, and from working-at-home mandates to a world where the health of our loved ones are at risk, COVID-19 has changed our lives in significant ways.

In addition, the reality that many workers face being laid off while still having to pay the mortgage and other expenses, only serves to exacerbate an already tenuous situation.

Consider this: one’s job — and the ability to perform it — can offer significant emotional and physical stability and identity.

If, as the MHCC states, one in three workplace disability claims in Canada was related to mental illness, accounting for 70 per cent of total disability costs, we can anticipate that number will rise immensely in a post-pandemic world.

Those on the front lines of this epidemic, meanwhile, such as our heroic health-care workers and first responders, will no doubt experience the strain of carrying such heavy and devastating burdens. And then there are individuals who struggled with mental health issues before COVID-19. They might find it even more difficult to meet their work demands and take care of their families.

An influx of disability claims related to mental health struggles is an unfortunate foreseeable consequence.

Disability claims

During times like this, one underscored by uncertainty and economic downturn, it’s common for LTD claims to spike as a result of heightened anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Employees who contract COVID-19 may be eligible to claim benefits under a short-term disability (STD) benefit plan, and if their symptoms persist and they are unable to continue to work, they may be eligible for LTD benefits. Those who have not contracted the virus, but who are experiencing related anxiety and/or depression that is undermining their ability to carry out their work duties, can also make an STD as well as an LTD claim, depending on how long they are unable to work as a result of disability.

Of course, the next challenge is getting that claim approved. Because mental health claims are often deemed “invisible,” they often face greater pushback by insurers and even employers. An applicant has a better chance of having their benefits approved with a diagnosis by a medical practitioner, preferably a specialist in the field, a discussion of functional limitations and a treatment plan in place.

If we all play our part, we can reduce the spread of the virus and get back to a level of normal that will fuel the economy, bring back routine and reduce the impact this virus and its attendant consequences has had on mental health.

Brad Moscato is the past chair of the LTD Section, Ontario Trial Lawyers Association. He is a partner at personal injury law firm Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP and is dedicated to pursuing the rights of disabled and injured people throughout Ontario.

Photo credit / Kubkoo ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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