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People in Newmarket with invisible disabilities are suffering in silence

Why insurance companies need to recognize that invisible disabilities can be just as debilitating as disabilities that can be seen

Fifteen percent of Canadians report having a mental or physical disability, with many suffering in silence.

Exacerbated by the pandemic, mental health issues have resulted in an explosion of long-term disability claims. “Employers need to be aware of this problem and accommodate employees struggling with mental health disabilities,” said David Share, president of Share Lawyers, who has helped people with disability benefits and denied disability claims in Ontario for over 35 years. “Invisible disability claims are far less likely to be accepted by insurance companies.”

As we become more aware of mental health disabilities, there is an increasing focus on employers and insurance companies who refuse to recognize mental illness as a legitimate disability.

Pandemic triggered a fundamental power shift

Nearly 4 million Canadians were living with a long-term disability. And in a tight labour market, employees with disabilities have more leverage to stake their claim. Before the pandemic, more than 10 percent have been denied a job because of their condition – but things are changing: Share said, “There’s never been a better time for people with long-term disabilities to advocate for greater accommodation in the workplace. Employers must make the kind of accommodations designed to support workers with disabilities in breaking down the social and physical barriers they face. They should facilitate their participation as productive members of the workforce.”

Accommodation should include both visible and invisible disabilities. For example, someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder might need to sit near a window. Someone with Crohn’s disease might need a desk near a bathroom. Accommodating disability in the workplace begins with an understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all prescription.

Quality of life matters as we return to the office

According to CAMH, substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability in Canada. Substance use does not exist in a vacuum, but is related to many other factors of our society. A recent Angus Reid poll found that half of the employees surveyed reported feeling fatigued, while nearly 40 percent are feeling anxious. “Employers must evaluate the resources they have put in place to handle anxiety, stress, and depression in an empathetic and proactive manner,” explained Share.

While disability insurance companies need to change their perceptions of “invisible disabilities.”  David Share points out that many of these disability insurance claims are denied because there is a lack of medical evidence to support the claim. “This is particularly problematic when it comes to ‘invisible illnesses’ because they cannot be confirmed with objective diagnostic testing.” Anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia cannot be detected in blood tests, X-rays, or MRIs, but this does not make them any less real or any less debilitating.

Long COVID may be invisible with very real symptoms

The medical community is beginning to grapple with the collection of post-COVID symptoms known as long COVID. It’s estimated that half a million Canadians currently have or suffered from long-COVID, which can present as an invisible illness. Long-COVID can batter the brain, heart, lungs, and other areas of the body and still be invisible.

Diagnosing long-COVID can be a battle because long-term disability insurance companies take advantage of the fact that there is no clear consensus or standardized set of tests. People who endure months of lingering pain and fatigue are often dismissed by insurance companies. “This attitude often leaves long-haulers battling financial hardship and suffering added stress as they struggle to regain their health,” added Share. “We should not accept the out of sight, out of mind approach to mental health and disability any longer. As U.S. disability advocate Robert M. Hensel says, ‘there is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more’.”

If you’re suffering from an invisible disability and your long term disability benefit has been denied, don’t give in to the insurance company and walk away from your rights. Use one of the free online tools available to find out if you have a valid disability case and contact the experienced long-term disability lawyers at Share Lawyers for a free consultation.