As of 2021, over 55 million Americans were living with a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). While mental health and disability are closely linked, disability insurance doesn't typically cover mental health conditions.
The original intention of disability insurance was to financially protect individuals who became permanently disabled through an injury or illness. Over the years, however, the definition of a "disability" has evolved to include more than just physical impairments. For example, long-term disabilities now include mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more.
What Was the Original Intention of DI?
When disability insurance first became available, it was primarily intended to provide financial protection for those whose physical disabilities or illnesses were so severe that they could no longer work. This definition of disability is still the most common today; however, the definition has expanded to include mental health conditions in some cases.
Today, mental illness is considered a disability if it’s severe enough to prevent an individual from working or significantly impair their ability to perform their job. This definition has led to the inclusion of conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorder, somatic symptom disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Does Disability Insurance Cover Mental Health?
One of the primary concerns with mental health and disability insurance is that a person's mental illness can be difficult to prove. This, combined with the fact that some insurers are hesitant to cover mental health conditions, makes it more challenging for individuals to get the necessary coverage.
That said, many disability insurance policies now include provisions for mental health coverage, though this coverage may be limited. Some policies may offer a one-time lump sum payment for a mental health disability, while others may provide payments over an extended period. It's important to read the fine print of your policy to determine what kind of coverage you're eligible for.
Some insurance companies also require higher premiums for mental health coverage and may have certain conditions that must be met to qualify.
How Does Mental Health Affect DI?
The increase in mental health conditions has significantly impacted disability insurance. While physical disabilities can be easier to prove and verify, mental illnesses are often harder to diagnose accurately. This makes it difficult for insurers to determine when an individual is eligible for benefits.
For this reason, many insurers have adopted a "pre-existing conditions" clause. This excludes certain mental health conditions from coverage even if they were diagnosed prior to applying for the policy.
In addition, the increasing prevalence of mental illness has also led to longer wait times for disability benefits to be approved due to more intensive reviews of applications.
The Future of Disability Insurance and Mental Health
The future of disability insurance and mental health depends largely on how insurers respond to the growing demand for coverage. Some companies are beginning to offer more comprehensive coverage, while others may continue to be hesitant due to difficulty determining eligibility.
In any case, it's important to understand your policy and what kind of mental health coverage it provides. This can help you get the protection you need in case of a disability. Additionally, it's also wise to explore other options for financial protection, such as long-term disability insurance if necessary.