New Memoir by Jan Wong Draws Attention to Workplace Depression and the Familiar Battle for Long-Term Disability Insurance Benefits

New Memoir by Jan Wong Draws Attention to Workplace Depression and the Familiar Battle for Long-Term Disability Insurance Benefits

Renowned Canadian author and journalist Jan Wong launched her latest book this month, a self-published memoir entitled Out of the Blue.

It is an insightful and brave account of workplace depression, and the subsequent battle with the employer and insurance company for disability benefits–a battle that many people have, unfortunately, experienced.

Wong was a star reporter during her 20 years at the leading Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail. However, all of that changed overnight when an article she wrote about the Dawson College Shooting of September 13, 2006, “set off a firestorm of controversy, including death threats, a unanimous denunciation by Parliament and a rebuke by her own newspaper.”

This caused Wong to fall into a severe clinical depression, and started an epic battle with her employer and insurance company that began with her sick-pay being cut-off, despite diagnoses of Major Depressive Disorder by her family doctor and psychiatrist and a supporting diagnosis from the independent medical examiner chosen by her employer. The battle lasted two years before ending in an arbitration hearing.

The arbitration would provide Wong with the justice that she was looking for: written acknowledgement from her employer that she was clinically ill during the period she missed work, as well as a lump-sum settlement from her insurer. She also refused to accept a gag-order from The Globe that would have prevented her from discussing why she was fired to the public, which is why she was able to write this memoir.

There are many passages in Wong’s memoir that would strike a chord with our clients and countless others who know how stressful and draining it can be to fight a denied disability insurance claim.

On page 76, Wong describes one of her first conversations with her Manulife “intervention specialist”:

I had worked with deadlines my whole career, but could I meet a wellness deadline? If I had had a broken hand, would the intervention specialist also impose a time limit on mending bones?

I asked how she was sure I would be okay within six weeks.

“You’re not sick,” she said. “I know because I’ve been doing disability assessment for thirty-two years.”

Individuals who suffer from depression and other mood disorders are often met with skepticism by employers and insurance companies, causing shame, guilt and consequently, further depression and anxiety. A lack of objective medical tests for the disease–such as MRIs, x-rays, and so on–makes it difficult to prove. In the above excerpt, Wong astutely questions whether she would be treated differently if she was dealing with a broken hand instead of depression. The answer, as many of our clients can attest to, is a resounding yes.

She also notes, “Although depression is an emotional illness, people crave physical evidence. Certainly, they expect you to look depressed.” (Wong, 170) But the truth is that the symptoms of depression can manifest in a variety of ways that are distinct to each individual, making it even more difficult to prove.

That December the company issued me a total of two back-to-work orders. Then it hired outside lawyers to fight my disability claim, my first ever. I was terrified. But somewhere between the ultimatums and the looming legal fight, I made a decision. I was sick, and I had a right to be sick. If the whole world kept caving to employers, we would never recognize depression as a true illness. (Wong, 110)

Wong’s decision to fight for her rights and her disability benefits does indeed lend a powerful voice to this critical subject. However, it is important to note that you don’t need to be a top journalist or celebrity to make a difference. Every time an employee with depression stands up to their unbelieving employer and insurance company and decides to fight for what is rightfully theirs, they are helping to raise awareness about this debilitating disease.

Out of the Blue is one of the first published memoirs in Canada, if not the first, that brings much-needed attention to workplace depression and insurance companies’ reprehensible treatment of claimants who request disability benefits when they are dealing with this disease. Wong’s experience will surely bring solace, hope and inspiration to those who are currently in the midst of a battle with their employer and insurance company.

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