The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a serious risk of long term disability for people with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), or bipolar disorder.
For many, the unbelievable uncertainties surrounding coronavirus and social isolation have caused their once-manageable mental health symptoms to spiral. Those who were once able to manage with their symptoms may find that they are no longer able to do so – resulting in long term disability.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health
Due to COVID-19, everyone is experiencing increased psychological stress on a broad scale. This is likely to result in new diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. However, COVID-19 may have an even more severe impact if you were already previously struggling with mental illness.
In addition to facing increased symptoms, you may now find that your prior coping strategies are less effective. Additionally, social distancing may limit your access to support and treatment. These factors can have a devastating impact on your daily functioning, which may result in long term disability.
Clinical depression (also known as major depression or major depressive disorder) is a serious mental illness and chemical imbalance requiring ongoing treatment. If severe enough, clinical depression can impact your activities of daily living and ability to work.
Amid COVID-19, people with pre-existing clinical depression may experience increased or new symptoms of:
- Pervasive feelings of sadness, despair, and worthlessness
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Slowed speech and physical movements
- Unusual sleep patterns (insomnia or excessive sleeping)
- Loss of interest or enjoyment
- Loss of appetite and/or significant change in body weight
- Difficulty dealing with coworkers, supervisors, and others
- Suicidal thoughts
The ways in which increasing depression may disrupt your career are endless. Any of these symptoms, if presenting frequently and severe enough, may make it impossible for you to meet expectations at work. For example, your increasing difficulties concentrating may result in failures to finish projects on time. Or you may be experiencing abnormal reactions to criticism from supervisors or coworkers – causing interpersonal difficulties in your work environment.
Anxiety or Panic Disorders
Anxiety can be a serious and disabling mental illness requiring ongoing treatment. Anxiety manifests itself differently in everyone. People may experience symptoms on a scale of mild to severely disabling. With the current circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, people with a pre-existing anxiety disorder may experience increased or new symptoms of:
- Intense episodes of nervousness and worry
- Racing thoughts
- Excessive anxiety and apprehension
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Pressured speech
- Feelings of imposing doom, dread, and fear
- Disrupted sleep patterns and insomnia
- Shortness of breath and increased heart rate
- Avoidant behavior
- Panic attacks
- Upset stomach, loss of appetite, and other gastrointestinal issues
Exacerbated anxiety can have a devastating ability on your ability to meet work expectations. Any of these symptoms, if presenting frequently and severely enough, may result in long term disability. For example, your anxiety may be so severe that you routinely call in “sick” to avoid meetings with co-workers or your supervisors. You may suffer panic attacks triggered by the stress of your job. Or you may be preoccupied with your debilitating symptoms and unable to focus, concentrate, or pay attention during an critical work call.
Bipolar disorder can be an extremely disabling condition caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. It is characterized by cycles of manic periods and depressive periods, which may be triggered or exacerbated by increased stressors. Both the highs and lows of bipolar disorder are intense and can interfere with your ability to work and other aspects of your daily life. The stressors of the coronavirus pandemic imposes may exacerbate bipolar disorder symptoms. Amid COVID-19, people with bipolar disorder may experience more rapid cycling and/or more severe manic, depressive, and mixed state episodes. The more severe symptoms and rapid cycling can cause extreme difficulties working reliably, consistently, and productively, leading to long term disability.
Bipolar Manic Episodes
During a more severe manic episode, you may experience worsened:
- Euphoric mood
- Decreased need for sleep
- Racing thoughts/distractibility
- Increased energy
- Inflated self-esteem
- Pressured speech
- Engagement in risky or self-destructive behaviors
- Poor decision-making
You may qualify for long term disability if these symptoms interfere with your ability to meet your work demands. For example, you may not be able to focus on work tasks or suddenly may feel that you are destined to accomplish much bigger, more lavish projects. You may not be able to communicate effectively at work due to racing thoughts or pressured speech. You also may impulsively not show up to work or make other poor work-related decisions with devastating consequences.
Bipolar Depressive Episodes
During a more severe depressive episode, you may experience worsened:
- Deep sadness/depressed mood
- Low energy
- Slow speech
- Problems with concentration and attention
- Insomnia and/or periods of too much sleep
- Feeling hopelessness and/or worthless
- Lack of interest/feeling no pleasure
- Weight loss and/or changes in appetite
- Thoughts of suicide
You may qualify for long term disability if these symptoms interfere with your ability to meet your work demands. For example, you may not feel motivated to start or complete work tasks – resulting in decreased productivity or missed deadlines. You may have difficulty paying attention during important meetings or calls. Also, may lose interest in performing work that you once enjoyed.
Bipolar Disorder Mixed State
One common occurrence in bipolar disorder is a “mixed state.” That is, an episode where you may simultaneously experience characteristics of both the manic and depressive stages. During a more severe episode, you may experience worsened:
- Anxiety and confusion
- Losing touch with reality
- Suicidal thoughts
- Manic behavior
- Clinical depression
- Excessive anger or belligerence
You may qualify for long term disability if these symptoms interfere with your ability to meet your work demands. For example, you have difficulty handling routine interactions with co-workers or supervisors. You may have difficulty balancing your moods to work efficiently and productively. You also may experience a severe inability to consistently show up to work.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It also can be caused by repeated exposure to details of trauma, such as a social worker repeatedly exposed to the details of sexual abuse. People with PTSD experience severely disturbing thoughts and feelings surrounding the trauma. Amid COVID-19, people with pre-existing PTSD may experience exacerbated:
- Disturbing or intrusive thoughts or feelings
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Detachment or estrangement
- Anger or irritability
- Strong negative reactions to triggers
It is possible you may experience PTSD specifically due to coronavirus. For example, if you are a doctor working on the frontline during the pandemic and repeatedly exposed to coronavirus-related deaths, your experiences may result in trauma and PTSD.
You may qualify for long term disability if your PTSD begins to substantially interfere with your ability to perform you work. For example, you may have difficulty getting through a workday without disruptive, disturbing, or invasive thoughts. You may begin to experience difficulties interacting with people at work without experiencing triggers. You also may feel the need to avoid interactions at work or triggering work situations.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted, obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions referred to as “rituals”. These intrusive thoughts and compulsions are exhausting, draining, and can interfere greatly with your ability to work. OCD is often aggravated by external stress triggers. Amid COVID-19, disabling symptoms of OCD may be exacerbated, including:
Repetitive behaviors/obsessive compulsions (examples include cleaning, checking, counting, tapping)
Intense fear and anxiety when unable to follow routines
Intrusive, unwanted, and recurring thoughts
Derealization (feeling detached from your body)
If you have OCD, you may find your symptoms increasing in severity and frequency due to the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, you may find yourself unable to leave your house without excessive hand washing that causes raw and bleeding skin. These rituals may also interfere more specifically with your job performance - if, for example, you cannot complete tasks in a timely manner because you are compelled to disinfect every surface of your desk multiple times during the work day.
Substance Abuse & Addiction Disorders
Drug and/or alcohol abuse and dependency disorder can be extremely disabling. As stressors increase and overall public well-being decreases amid COVID-19, experts are reporting a dramatic increase in the use of alcohol and other substances. In addition to increased alcohol and substance use, many people suffering from addiction problems lack access to in-person supportive networks and treatment programs, such as AA meetings, due to social distancing. Although these programs and treatments are becoming available online, many people may find that they are less effective than they were in-person.
You may qualify for long term disability if your drug and/or alcohol abuse is beginning to interfere with your ability to successfully perform your job duties. For example, you may forget to complete work tasks or fail to meet your supervisor’s production expectations. You also may find it difficult to maintain your regular work schedule or complete work tasks in a timely manner. Additionally, you may be experiencing increased difficulties tolerating work stress without the assistance of substances.
Other Mental and Behavioral Disorders
The coronavirus crisis has deteriorated the mental health of many. If you have been struggling with any mental illness or psychiatric condition, you’re undoubtedly facing new challenges during COVID-19. The increased stress, uncertainties, and social isolation associated with the coronavirus pandemic have made it more difficult to manage existing symptoms as effectively as before. For many people, the pandemic has also caused new symptoms they have not yet reckoned with. Limited access to in-person care compounds the situation.
Other mental illnesses with symptoms that may be exacerbated amid the COVID-19 pandemic include:
- Adjustment Disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (“OCD”)
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Mood Disorders
- Personality Disorders
Long Term Disability Due to Mental Illness Amid COVID-19
Who May Qualify for Long Term Disability
Amid COVID-19, you may qualify for long term disability insurance benefits due to mental illness if the following criteria are met:
- You must have long term disability insurance coverage either through your employer or through an individual policy that you purchased.
- Your mental illness symptoms must be occurring frequently and severely enough to interfere with your ability to perform your work duties.
Difficulties interfering with your ability to perform work duties may include:
- Difficulties focusing/concentrating
- Difficulties tolerating stress
- Difficulties in your day-to-day with co-workers, supervisors, or others at work
- Difficulties consistently and reliably maintaining your regular work schedule
- Difficulties in analytical problem-solving or other high-level cognitive functioning
- Difficulties with motivation or interest
- Difficulties following routine work procedures
This list is not exhaustive – you may have problems successfully performing your job duties in other areas.
How to Talk to Your Doctor About Disability
Before you file a long term disability claim, you should talk to your doctor. Explain the difficulties that you have been experiencing and how those difficulties are impairing your ability to work. This will help keep your doctor informed so that he or she can offer a qualified opinion about your work status.
QUICK TIP: Consider providing your doctor with a written list of your symptoms, changes in your symptoms, and how they are affecting your ability to work. This will help ensure that you don’t forget anything. It’s important to have all of your symptoms—physical and emotional—documented with your doctor(s).
How to File a Long Term Disability Claim
To file a long term disability claim amid COVID-19, you must:
- Carefully review your benefit plan or private policy.
- Be aware of all deadlines in your benefit plan or private policy.
- Provide notice to your employer and insurer.
- Complete and submit all claim forms.
- Gather and submit sufficient medical evidence in support of your claim (medical records, a letter from your doctor, medication records, etc.).
- Respond to any follow-up requests from your insurer.
How to Prove Long Term Disability
To receive long term disability benefits for a mental health disorder amid COVID-19, you must prove that you meet the definition of “disabled” under the terms of your benefit plan or private policy. Carefully read the definition of “disabled” and/or “disability” in your plan or policy to ensure you understand them. Initially, most will require you to prove that you cannot perform the substantial and material duties of your regular occupation due to your illness.
To meet the definition of disability, you must explain why your symptoms do not allow you to meet the demands of your occupation. If your mental illness has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, you must be prepared to:
- Submit statements from you and your provider explaining why you were able to work one day and not the next (e., what changed?); and
- Substantiate your claim with medical evidence, such as treatment notes or objective testing (e., MMPI, neuropsychological testing, documentation of clinical abnormalities upon examination, etc.).
How to Meet the Appropriate Treatment Requirement
Your long term disability benefit plan or private policy likely requires you to be receiving appropriate care and treatment from a qualified medical professional. For a mental illness, this may mean that you are receiving regular treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist. In some instances, a licensed therapist or social worker may also count as a “qualified” medical professional. The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges in receiving regular care. However, many healthcare providers are offering telemedicine appointments and/or following social distancing and PPE measures in their offices to ensure safe in-person appointments.
Even if you are treating with a qualified medical professional, your insurance company may deny disability benefits due to “lack of appropriate treatment” if your treatment is sporadic or infrequent. The insurer will want to see that you are compliant with the recommended course of care. Talk to your doctor about how frequently treatment is recommended so that you can satisfy this standard and maximize the benefits of treatment.
How a Long Term Disability Lawyer Can Help
A qualified long term disability lawyer can substantially increase your chances of filing a successful long term disability benefit claim for mental health difficulties amid COVID-19. A long term disability attorney can help you:
- Formulate a clear exit strategy from work
- Handle all communications with necessary parties (i.e., your insurance company, your doctors and your employer)
- Gather, organize, and sift through your medical records
- Work with your doctor to obtain the best medical support for your claim
- Refer you to get appropriate testing done to support your claim, such as a neuropsychological evaluation
- Prepare the insurance company’s disability forms
- Supplement the claim forms with a personal statement in support of your disability
- Prepare you for any interviews that your insurance company may request
- Prepare you for any medical examinations that your insurance company requests
- Ensure that the insurance company obtains the information it needs, while protecting you from insurance company abuse
If you are suffering from increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness amid COVID-19, our New York long term disability lawyers can help. Call Riemer Hess LLC at (212) 297-0700 for a consultation on your disability case.