Disability By Mental Illness Is Underappreciated By Insurance Industry

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In light of Robin Williams’ passing this year, mental health has returned to the headlines. As described in Arianna Huffington’s article “Robin Williams, Connectedness and the Need to End the Stigma Around Mental Illness,” Williams’ suicide was undoubtedly linked to his struggle with depression and anxiety. In fact, as Huffington reports, “90 percent of those who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness of some kind at the time of their death.” Of all mental disorders, depression is the most common: it inflicts one out of every twenty Americans. This public-health concern has received far too little attention and since the 1980s, government “spending for mental health, while increasing in raw terms, has still remained only 1 percent of the economy, even as overall health spending has risen from 10 percent of GDP to 17 percent by 2009.” This lack in spending is largely due to the stigma associated with mental-health issues.

Decades ago, disability insurers became aware that a high percentage of their policyholders became disabled by mental health conditions. Instead of lending a helping hand, they turned their back on this population, by incorporating coverage limits for disability caused or contributed to by a mental health condition. This sweeping limitation has been upheld on court challenges even involving the ADA. 42 U.S.C. ยง 12101 et seq; Fletcher v. Tufts University 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7237 (D. Mass. April 15, 2005)
Illnesses of the body that affect our physical health are far easier to objectify and more accepted within the disability landscape, tending to overshadow emotional health. Physical ailments are often related to or can lead to mental disorders. NBC reported that Robin Williams was battling symptoms of early Parkinson’s disease. The news source noted that in addition to the paralyzing affects on a patient’s body, Parkinson’s often leads to “depression and other disability.” This is well documented.

As disability attorneys, we are always careful to carve out mental health issues from our cases, so that our clients do not fall into the trap of receiving limited disability benefits for their claims that arise from a physical disorder, but understandably impact their psyche. See for example Ayers v. LINA, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55814(D. Ore, April 12, 2012)
At Bonny Rafel LLC, we review and advocate for patients that have illnesses of both the body and the mind. We understand that mental and emotional health is just as crucial to overall wellness as one’s physical condition.