Imagine a world you live in where every insurance offering is accompanied by a creepy set of Big Brother-like ongoing investigations into your life. Everything will be used as evidence against you. Yes, even your Facebook profile.
That world is here. Well, not right here, but up north in Canada.
Yes, a Canadian insurance company decided to keep tabs on a woman it was paying sick leave benefits to, and lo and behold, that woman was having — wait for it — fun!
Nathalie Blanchard, a 29-year-old IBM employee from Quebec, took a long-term sick leave from her job after being diagnosed with major depression. Her doctor told her to try & have fun, and to take a sunny vacation to get away from her problems. She did just that while she received monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife.
And she posted her vacation photos on her private Facebook profile. But recently, the monthly payments stopped.
Why? Because Manulife, her insurance company, found the photos and made the medical diagnosis — from a photo, mind you — that she no longer suffered from major depression. From a photo.
After all, if you’re having fun, there’s no way you could still have clinical depression, right? I mean, depressed people aren’t allowed on vacation. They can’t go to parties. And last time I saw one dancing, it must’ve been what, 20 years ago?
The insurance company not only has shot itself in the foot by acknowledging that it spies on its customers through any means possible — including their online social media profiles — but in also the thoughtless, stigmatizing way it treats people with a mental health concern, as second class citizens.
Depressed people can’t have moments of joy? Depressed people can’t have a fun day, but still get home and feel the weight of their major depression weighing down on them? Depressed people can’t dance?
Ignorance + Stigma = Ridiculous.
So while this serves as a warning to anyone who thinks that what they post to Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter is harmless or innocuous — think again. It can and will be used against you to deny you coverage and services. It will be used against you to deny you future employment, or insurance (or insurance will be offered to you at much higher rates). Companies like Manulife will continue to get away with this sort of behavior as long as they have customers.
Read the full story: Woman Loses Sick-Leave Benefits for Depression Thanks to Facebook Pics
Thanks, John. Very relevant to the modern world.
So, for us ignorant lay people, can you spell out the basics of how depression can be debilitating even when someone’s smiling, the difficulty of recovery, the truly therapeutic value of someone having fun?
I imagine some people will never have their attitudes changed, and some are already enlightened, but a lot are probably in the middle, uninformed but willing to learn. What can you tell them/us?
OK, I read the full piece, on PsychCentral. To the ignorant the FB photo might resemble insurance fraud stories widely seen on TV.
Of course I know that “snapshot of a smile” is not to “mental illness” as “bowling” is to “disabled by back pain.” But perhaps it would help the uninformed to hear an anecdote of how glimpses of hope, moments of happiness, didn’t mean the person was well, and have even been followed by suicide…. and how successfully re-learning to have fun was precursor (genuinely successful therapy) to full return to health.
Dick Cavett’s incredibly moving blog post last year taught me everything I need to know, to be convinced:
Indeed, a high school classmate of mine took her life last winter, as she was (apparently) emerging from depression.
From this I see that the muscular movement to form a smile, or stand on a beach, has nothing to do with total lack of initiative or caring about anything. But again, maybe a quick anecdote of success and of failure will help others see how erroneous it is to judge by a snapshot.
For me the core problem is that nobody — and I mean nobody — should be making diagnostic decisions based solely upon a set of social photographs. Not a doctor, not a psychologist, not a therapist. And certainly not an insurance company. This would be an unethical practicing of medicine if a doctor did it.
So why should it be any different for a business or a health insurer? Shouldn’t they be held to the same standards as the professionals? I’d say, absolutely.
Who’s to say whether this woman still has clinical depression or not? Only her doctor — no one else.
As a Canadian, I was extremely disappointed when I heard of this story (it’s been in the news everywhere here). In my opinion, the insurance company has invaded the patient’s privacy, and they are potentially damaging the reputation of her healthcare professionals who seem to believe that her condition still existed. What has disappointed me even more are the comments written by the readers of the story. Many not only support the insurance company’s action, but they are also taking on a ‘doctor’ role by diagnosing the patient based on her pictures. Is that all it takes to be a doctor these days – a quick look at a picture? If that were the case, then telemedicine would be used without hesitation in all situations.
While invasion of privacy is a very serious crime, technically it is not invasion if a person publishes information to an open website. This is not to say that one does not feel violated or “snooped” upon.
Most sites (including Facebook) provide options to have information protected whereby only certain parties or groups of people can view a download and some can have restricted access.
Perhaps this story should teach us that we need to look carefully at not only what we put up on our sites, but how we can protect it from viewing by the wrong people.
Incidentally, one also must be aware that any potential employers are also cruising social media sites.
Drunken binges and legal infractions are better off not being published to social media sites, no matter how humorous it might appear at the time.
The next time that you apply for a job and don’t get it despite your qualifications, you might want to review your social media entries to see why.
Everything we publish regarding our health will become part of our ‘personal health footprint’. While this is an unfortunate case, we have to remember that when we publish our comings and goings it’s available to everyone.
Understood, Dr.V. Doc John’s point, which I didn’t catch at first but is perfect, was “that nobody — and I mean nobody — should be making diagnostic decisions based solely upon a set of social photographs.”
And if judging “The claimed condition doesn’t exist” isn’t a diagnostic decision, I don’t know what is. :)
What I find most interesting about this is how I personally post pix to Facebook. It usually involves several months of procrastination followed by a major download from the digital camera. Finally, it is a post many months after the picture was taken.
Interestingly, on my FB page, you’ll see pictures of me smiling in the middle of 5 months of chemotherapy. I was smiling because I had access to drugs that could possibly cure my cancer and let me see my children grow up. I was smiling because I got to spend a day with my children and was cherishing it. I was smiling because I didn’t want to face the “what ifs” of having a cancer diagnosis.
As much as I’ve opposed Health Care Reform in its present fan, stories like this make you rethink the companies (such as the one in this article) that are pressing the issue forward.
The fact that someone’s personal life can be invaded in such a manner is disgusting. There’s no proof that a depressed person is “happy” through their online photos. That’s terrible.
Really insightful – continue to spread your message. Looking forward to an update. For too long now have I had the urge to get started on my own blog. Guess if I wait around any longer I will never ever take action. I’ll make sure to include you in my Blogroll. Many thanks!!