There has been a sharp rise in stress and anxiety throughout the pandemic, resulting in more mental health-related disability claims, says Toronto personal injury and disability lawyer Nainesh Kotak.
A global study conducted by Workplace Intelligence found that increased stress and anxiety have negatively affected the mental health of 78 percent of the global workforce, causing more stress, a lack of work-life balance, burnout, depression and loneliness.
The new pressures brought on by the pandemic have been layered on top of existing workplace stressors, including pressure to meet performance standards, handling routine and tedious tasks and juggling unmanageable workloads, the study shows.
“We’re seeing this both in our clients and from people calling our office,” says Kotak, principal lawyer of Kotak Law. “Their anxiety levels have increased. People are having more panic attacks. In this atmosphere of so much uncertainty, people are feeling much more vulnerable.”
Greater chance insurers will deny disability claims for mental illness
According to data released by Leger, almost one-quarter of Canadians have reported their mental health has declined since the first wave of the pandemic, reports Global News.
But because mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are invisible –– they’re not found in MRI scans or X-Rays –– there’s a greater likelihood that those types of claims will be denied, Kotak points out.
“I see that time and time again. The catchall phrase that disability insurer’s use is, ‘There’s insufficient medical evidence to support ongoing mental disability.’ They’re asking for objective evidence, which you find in broken bones or heart disease. But with mental health claims, the doctor’s diagnosis is based on subjective complaints.”
At this point, many people give up, thinking it’s the end of the road. Or they launch an appeal through the insurance company’s internal process only to be readily rejected again and have their claim denied, he adds.
“Our recommendation is not to take the internal appeal route,” Kotak says. “You’re asking the insurance company’s colleagues to judge its decision to deny or terminate your benefits, and they don’t tend to reverse those decisions. The better remedy is to seek out a lawyer who specializes in disability claims.”
Anxious time for essential workers of all stripes
There have been countless news stories reporting on the depression and emotional exhaustion health care professionals are experiencing during the pandemic, but they aren’t the only front-line workers impacted, Kotak says.
“Our office has had many calls from people who work at liquor stores or grocery stores and deal with random customers on a daily basis,” he notes. “Their risk of exposure is greater than the average person, and many have developed anxiety to the point where they can’t leave their homes.”
Unlike paramedics, police officers, doctors and nurses who have been trained to deal with emergency situations, Kotak says retail workers, many of whom are paid minimum wage, never imagined that doing their job would place them in the eye of a global pandemic storm.
“They’re extremely vulnerable; it’s almost as if they never signed up for this.”
Return to work a stress trigger
For workers who had the option of working from home during the early months of lockdown, Kotak says the prospect of returning to the physical workplace also increases anxiety.
“Many employees are returning to workplaces they don’t feel safe in, which has led to more disability claims. People who have pre-existing health conditions that put them at greater risk should they contract the virus are worried about taking public transit or being in an environment where physical distancing is next to impossible.”
Kotak says many of the disability claims he handles have a combination of physical and mental illness, which is not surprising given that people living with chronic physical health conditions experience depression and anxiety at twice the general population rate.
“I find there are many workers who have stand-alone mental health conditions that prevent them from working, whether it’s anxiety or depression. But many who suffer from chronic pain are also battling mental health issues.
“People who work in physically taxing jobs are often disabled from working due to chronic pain in their back or elsewhere, but they may also be unable to perform a sedentary type of job because of the depression associated with their pain,” he says.
How can employers help?
Another issue highlighted by the Workplace Intelligence study is that employees want employers to provide more mental health support, and failing to do so will have a profound impact on global productivity and the personal and professional lives of the global workforce.
Research shows that one in five Canadians will suffer a mental illness at some point in their lives and that mental illness is a leading cause of disability. Given that, Kotak says it’s incumbent on employers to shore up their understanding and supports for workers.
“Employers need to be accommodating to employees who are going through depression and anxiety,” he says. “If they don’t, it will lead to more absences from work because the employee will be stressed and will ultimately burn out.”
KOTAK PERSONAL INJURY LAW/DISABILITY LAWYERS CAN HELP YOU
We understand that being denied short-term disability or long-term disability benefits can be devastating. Your time to fight your disability insurance company is limited. Please do not delay in calling a short and long-term disability claim lawyer at Kotak Personal Injury Law. We have successfully sued numerous disability insurance companies, including Manulife, Sunlife, Desjardins, Cigna, Great-West Life, Equitable Life, Empire Life, London Life, Blue Cross, AIG, SSQ, RBC, Industrial Alliance, Canada Life, Fenchurch, OTIP, Teacher’s Life and more.
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