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What those with mental health concerns should know about short-term disability

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Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reveal that mental health conditions are far from uncommon. In fact, NAMI has made the following eye-opening determinations concerning mental health issues in America:

  • One in five adults will experience some type of mental illness.
  • Roughly one in 25 adults live with a serious/chronic mental illness.
  • 75 percent of all serious/chronic mental illnesses symptoms become evident by age 24.

Given staggering numbers above, questions arise as to whether short-term disability provides adequate mental health coverage.

Does short-term disability cover chronic mental illness?

Private short-term disability insurance does not typically cover serious/chronic mental illness. The 24 months of payments are reserved for claims involving physical ailments or accidents.

A typical policy might contain language indicating the following: "Benefits will not be paid for losses caused by or resulting from mental or emotional diseases or disorders of any kind."

Those with conditions like clinical depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia should consider looking for income protectionelsewhere.

What about temporary acute mental health episodes?

Private short-term disability insurance does not cover temporary acute mental health episodes. That's because these issues are considered to be the sort of emotional disorders specifically excluded by policy language.

A temporary acute mental health episode includes everything from anxiety and depression to situational stress.

Does this mean a person with mental health concerns can't ever look to short-term disability?

Not necessarily. Experts indicate that short-term disability coverage may be helpful in situations involving psychotropic drugs. Many drugs have potentially serious side effects that could impair a person's ability to work.

Consider how some psychotropic medications cause weight gain, which can lead to the onset of diabetes or hypertension. Thesemedication side effects are physical conditions that short-term disability might cover.

It's important to note that the size of a policy may have to be smaller. The reason is that the more coverage sought, the more complete the underwriting process and the higher the premiums.

What other options are there?

People diagnosed with a mental illness can look to the following for income assistance:

  • Social Security disability insurance
  • Paid family leave programs
  • Unemployment compensation

Source: Growing Family Benefits, "Does short-term disability insurance cover mental illness?" Kevin Haney, May 24, 2016

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