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December 2nd, 2009 by Dr. Phil

Facebook Strikes Again

ladyAtComputer1Just when I think I’ve heard it all, here comes the story of one Miss Nathalie Blanchard.

Miss Blanchard is a young Canadian woman who, for the past year, has been on sick leave from her job at an IBM office after being diagnosed with major depression.  According to reports, Miss Blanchard posted cheerful, smiling images of herself on Facebook, photos of her beach vacation and nights out with friends. She says her insurance benefits were cut off because the insurance company said her Facebook pictures indicated she was no longer depressed and was ready to return to work.

Really? Really? So we allegedly have diagnosticians working for insurance companies that can diagnose someone from some photos? Give me a break! How about asking for an updated evaluation? How about some good, old-fashioned due process? How about learning about depression and the process involved? The cyclical nature of the disorder?

I’m actually not surprised that an insurance company (and it’s probably not the only one) is reportedly watching its policy holders on Facebook, looking to see who might be fibbing about a particular illness. But is a social networking site really the place to make a medical diagnosis, especially when it comes to something like clinical depression? I get it if someone’s saying they have a bad back and can barely walk. If they then post dated photos or videos of themselves doing back flips, OK, that’s a problem. Mental illness is not so transparent.

Miss Blanchard is allegedly taking legal action against IBM and her health insurance company, arguing that the doctor who was treating her for depression recommended that she socialize with family and friends instead of staying at home and staring blankly at the wall. I’ll be very interested to see how that lawsuit turns out.

In the meantime, believe me when I go on one of my periodic rants about the stuff you stick up on your Facebook page. The Web is great, but it may also be a modern-day, real world counterpart of Orwell’s “Big Brother.”  Am I being paranoid or just realistic? Let me hear from you.

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126 Responses to “Facebook Strikes Again”

  1. Luna says:

    Wow. Now I’ve heard everything. I’ve had problems with Facebook in the past as well..It’s not a social networking site anymore…It’s a breeding ground for drama, hate and now this. Poor woman. So much for trying to be positive and get out of the depression rut. I hope she fights this battle and wins.

  2. Rob says:

    I am partially disabled on the leftside and I too had problem on facebook…I have added that i THOUGHT would remember me BECAUSE we KNEW some of the same people.I was nothing but nice to this girl…She wrote me back a long message BUT the one thing stuck out was telling me” PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE THE REASON OUR COUNTRY IS IN DEBT”…she also told me i could work which is true BUT i have over 30 yrs of medical records that prove to anyone NOT THAT IT MATTERS that i am legally disabled…I have talked to legal aid and they didnt tell me i wasnt disabled.

    What the message showed me and those people who i showed it to is some people DO NOT mature with age..What mature 20+ person makes rude and uncalled for comments like they are a 5-15 about someone who is disabled or elderly

  3. vince says:

    PHILADELPHIA – A Pennsylvania school district accused of secretly switching on laptop computer webcams inside students’ homes is under investigation by federal authorities, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press.

    The FBI will look into whether any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws were violated by Lower Merion School District officials, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the investigation, told the AP on Friday.

  4. Erica Tynan says:

    Even when you’re depressed you are still going to “Smile for the camera”!

    Speaking from experience, being stuck in the house just adds to the problem, even though at the same time going out with friends is extremely difficult. This poor woman was following Doctors orders and doing what she needed to help herself get better. She needs to be in the sun!!

  5. Mandy says:

    That is absolutely absurd! Everyone needs to update their privacy settings. I have mine set so that all they can do when they find me is send me a message and see my profile picture. They cannot look through any of my pictures, see my information or my wall. I also know of one friend who changed her settings to that she can add people but when people search for her they won’t find her.
    I hope she wins with her lawsuit because an insurance company or employer or teacher, etc. should not be allowed to pass a judgement on somebody off a social networking site. As a manager, I have faced issues with staff complaining that another staff member wasn’t really sick one day because they posted on Facebook that they were going to a party but in the end there was nothing I could do about it because that is her personal life and is none of my business.

  6. Kristen says:

    I work for an insurance company. There is so much behind what constitutes “Disability” and that even varies person to person based on legal contracts that define the word. The common misconception in the general public seems to be that if someone says they are Disabled or on Disability that they can’t do anything, which is false. Most people can do something, but qualify based on factors outside of medical reasons. Unfortunately though, all of society isn’t honest and particularly when it comes to money. It’s the 1 person out of 100 defrauding a company that then holds the other 99 in the suspecting eye of “Big Brother.” Ever heard the saying “walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck it IS a duck?” Red flags go up and investigations of unusualy sorts go into play. What are insurance companies in the business for? You got it money! They won’t tell you the truth about what goes on behind closed doors and what unethical things occur though. There are times I deny someone and wish I could call and tell them everything they need to know to file a lawsuit. I hope that woman wins her lawsuit to!

  7. Connie says:

    I really feel for this woman. I understand what she is saying about the insurance companies. I would like to know if any one out there has applied for SSDI? It is amazing to me that I have several conditions one of which is Fibromyalgia arthritis, high blood pressure and several others. I found that it is true, your first request is always denied and now I’m on a list for an appeal, which will take up to two years before I can get a hearing. I am worried with President Obama’s health proposal that I may never get approved (Is Social Security ending along with meicaid). To me this is sad, I worked hard all my life for these monies and I feel like I have to beg for the monies I paid into the Social Security Administration. Can I get a bit of feed back. Has anyone gone through this experience? Can you lead me in the right direction to help me receive the SSDI that I feel I definately in need of?

    Thank you

    Connie form Alabama

    Thank you

  8. DJB says:

    In highschool, i attended a small christian school. A friend from the public school in my town wrote on my wall about a up coming party and how i should go drink with her. The school staff saw that and had a meeting with me and my family. They thought that i wasnt representing the school right and i was kicked out. to this day i hate myspace and facebook because i never went to that party, but was associated with that group!

  9. Russell Vlaanderen. says:

    Russell Said. That Facebook is not so good after all. But people still use it for work
    and school work aswell. Sincerley Your. Russell Vlaanderen.———————-

  10. Sally Newkidney says:

    I received a consent form to fill out from my long term disability that said they could check all “public domain” links on the computer. I don not have a facebook under MY NAME simply because of this. I do not have anything to hide, but Insurance companies can twist anything to their favor. Be VERY CAREFUL what info goes in/out on the computer! Plople just dont get it and are putting all sorts of info out there about their life thinking it is private… it is not! 7 years post kidney transplant! Please be an organ donor! :)

  11. Brenda says:

    To Connie from Alabama,
    Unfortunately I have gone through what you are now going through. I was a nurse for over 35 years. I injuried myself & have had 2 back surgeries. I also developed high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, arthritis in both knees (caused by multiple falls due to my back problem), arthritis in my right hand, depression & stomach problems. I returned to work after the first surgery (light duty) but have been unable to return after the second. It was suggested to me by my attorney to file for SSDI. I was already out of work 1 year by this time & finally decided to do so. As you said I was denied the first time. I was just finally approved this past April 2009. Initally I was to show up before an appeals judge but I had hired a disability attorney (when I first applied for SSDI) who brought my case to the judge himself. My condition was clearly in their definition of injury/illness to be approved for disability. I ended up not having to appear before the judge. The process took 3 years which to me was ridiculous. My attorney informed me that it took longer because of the economy. SS had to lay off people also. I don’t know if this helps but no matter what you do it will take some time. As for SS ending soon I’ve heard the same & don’t know if that is going to effect me later. All I know is I’d rather work than sit home day after day looking at the same 4 walls. I certainly would not put myself through all this if it was not necessary. But as you said we work & put moneies into SS so that when we do need it it is there. It’s pathetic that we have to go through all this but unfortunately because of those that have scammed the system those of us who truly are injuried have to go through hell & back to get what we deserve. Patience is all I can offer you. Some prayers might help to. Good luck. I’ll be thinking of you. Brenda

  12. GINGER ELLISON says:


  13. Maya says:

    Don’t people know how to set their privacy settings so that random people wouldn’t look at their photos??

  14. vivian crowhurst says:

    If you’re suffering depression, it’s most certainly not good to sit at home and mope, instead go out and meet people, maybe even get a job. As for the source of depression it, is emotional and not physical. The physical symptoms are just that, symptoms and not the source. What she really needs is a good psychotherapist. I could show her the source of her depression in 90 minutes with WholeSelf-Image-Profiling, but unfortunately I live inQueretaro, Mexico.

  15. Deb Kerr says:

    I cannot get over how easy it is for people to assume things based on a tiny thing like an emoticon.If a person is not in a wheel chair with both arms in casts and a neck collar then there is nothing wrong with that person.Give ME a break! I have been disabled on paper since 1998.I say on paper because that is when I was diagnosed,but it took a few years to get a diagnoses.The process included a lot of testing and ruling out of other illnesses.
    I was diagnosed in 1998 with Fibromyalgia,along with that I have chronic fatigue restless legs,irritable bowel.People with Fibro have a hard time being rested because we do not get to that stage of rest.
    I also Have Diabetes,diagnosed in 2005.I have arthritis in all joints.I am 46 years old and at the age of 39 had my first surgery for Cataracts.Sadly I ended up with nerve damage. A dr that sees you for this procedure,does not know what the eye looked like before hand.They were not aware as well as myself that the nerves were all inflamed.So a surgery that was suppose to be painless was NOT.I see VERY well and I am great full for that.I was however left with Post-herpetic Neuralgia (shingle pain) Behind both eyes.Look it up,it is very painful.
    I am so sick of people saying “But you Look Fine”Looks can be very deceiving.No One is here when I am awake for a few days at a time because of the pain,No one is here to see the struggles I endure when trying to do normal everyday things.To Those people I say this,if you have 3 people in front of you,one is blind one has cancer and one is Diabetic,Can YOU tell who has what just by looking???? Most can NOT.To those people I say walk in my shoes for a week or so,then tell me how rested and able to work you would be.As far as I am concerned,people in power that you are forced to depend on for an income,have absolutely no right to diagnose anyone based on a tiny emoticon.If we all spoke and Looked the way we feel,would we be more believable??That is sad because the only person that knows how I feel is me,and trust me when I say living in my skin is NOT very pleasant MOST of the time.Thanks for allowing me to express my opinion.

  16. Coni Thompson says:

    I have had a similar experience with a work comp claim that tried to say I was not injured when I was on a 10 pound weight limit and they photographed me using an 8 pound electric chain saw on tree branches. No one tried to put forth the truth so I had to bring the electric chain saw into court with the owner and the medications I was on to prove to the judge that I was within my limiitations.

  17. Tammie says:

    I, too, suffer from major depression. Although I am unable to work, I have never even considered applying for social security or government benifets of any type. I’m not sure why, I just never really thought of it as an option. However, while, my Dr also encourages me to try & “get out” I can not even imagine being able to go to the beach, much less a club. My depression has been drug resistant, maybe hers is not. Either way, the insurance company still should have spoken with her Dr before making a decision to cancel her benefits!!

  18. Harold Braswell says:

    Years ago I took a course in log cabin building in the North West. Now this teacher was paranoid. He said something that I thought was really funny. He said that just because you are paranoid does not mean that they are not out to get you. Now I guess that was a way of him calling attention to his problem. That is sort of analogous to having your disability taken away even though you are disabled with depression. They will take it away if they can.


  19. tina dugan says:

    dr phil, i have major depression and am in an art therapy program which has been affected by state budget cuts….in the state of arizona….currently controversy state….not only is the immigration issue in the news…what people may not know is that a huge chunk of $ was taken from mental health and alot of people i know cant go to art therapy because they are not ‘titlle 19′ this state is wanting money for a fence for the boarder and we are broke and the emphasis of this state is not on its citizens but on the politicians pockets…..mental health is more important than immigration and an indivuduals health is more important than $$…..i bet my comment doesnt make sense but this world doesnt and i am tired of it…i am tired of $ being more important than people…..it just makes an illness worse.

  20. kimberly says:

    man hey she is talking which is way better then sitting at home and string at the wall or sleeping cause all that does is lead to bad thoughts and all. i have bi-polar manic and ptsd sometimes it is good to have support that what all docs susggest you need a support system. you go girl get them

  21. I agree–The fraud visited on Insurance companies who pay disability claims must pay attention to the receivers of those funds. I guess the issue is “how best to do that?” There is room for thinking of the most judicious way to do that and e-mail is not a good communication tool. FACEBOOK is gonna get you! It’s better than the NYT.

  22. karen b says:

    Depression is a serious illness usually requiring treatment by a physician and/or psychologist adequately trained to help the patient reach and maintain remission. The insurance company that denied this patient’s RIGHT to continue treatment based upon a photo is ridiculous and unfair. So…if a diabetic is photographed with an ice cream sundae or a cardiac patient is tagged with of photo of himself/herself putting salt on french fries, does the insurance company also curtail the benefits to these patients? Perhaps the insurance companies are losing sight of who is ACTUALLY paying them-THE PATIENT!!!

  23. Mike says:

    Well… whether or not was she feeling better the issue here is the way people are exposing themselves with Facebook and other social media sites. I’m not “social media” savvy and while I see the advantages (like find lost friends…) and don’t understand why people over-expose their lives. There’s always a huge debate on privacy but a big % of our population just don’t care about it when they are posting on Facebook or tweeting…

  24. Katy says:

    I’m addicted to Facebook! But recently I’ve heard several news about the dangerous of social media sites. Regarding this story I think that the insurance companies are trying to use every resource to try to discover fraud… in this it seems a too excessive!!

  25. Rachel says:

    It is possible that there was more involved in the decision to cancel the claimant’s benefits than simply a flawed assumption that she must no longer be depressed because she was on vacation in Florida. Many disability policies include a clause that requires claimants to report to the insurer if they will be away from their place of residence for a certain period of time. My guess is that the intent is to monitor the activities of claimants as a way to identify potential fraud. Rightly or wrongly, if this stipulation is part of the contract, and the claimant breached that clause by not notifying her adjudicator, the insurer may legitimately be correct in discontinuing benefits. Having said that, if they did so with no investigation, which appears to be the case, this seems very wrong indeed.

    I have multiple sclerosis and am in the process of opening an LTD claim as my short term employer disability benefits expire in the next few months. My symptoms wax and wane throughout the day/week/month. Some days it is a struggle to get out of bed. Showering and other basic hygiene and primping require enormous effort. Concentration can be so poor I can barely read a magazine article. Vision may be double. Painful hands and clumsiness make it very difficult to keyboard. Lassitude may have me back in bed by mid-afternoon. Other days I feel relatively well; can get up at a decent hour (usually after 10 -12 hours sleep); shower, dress, etc in half the time it takes on my bad days. I can drive, run errands, do household chores, read a book, fix dinner, etc. Problem is, there is no way to predict which days will be good ones and which ones will not. I can certainly travel having this disease, though have to accommodate by doing things such as: purchasing expensive first class seats for more comfort, to stretch my painful limbs and to increase the likelihood of getting some sleep on the plane; booking 1 – 2 extra days at the start and end of a trip to allow for adjusting to jet lag, getting much needed rest, etc. Many days I need to sit out activities and rest at the hotel while travelling companions go off having fun. Sometimes it means passing on a lovely dinner out because I overdid it during the day.

    If I posted pics of such a vacation it would be easy for anyone, including an insurance company, to assume I am well, completely fine, and fit for work; without understanding the unpredictability of MS and its many symptoms, nor understanding the lengths and expense I go to in order to be able to travel and not jeopardize my health. Because one can travel with MS, depression, or a whole host of other invisible diseases, does not necessarily mean they are fit to perform work, either their own job or any other, even with accommodation by their employer. There is too much at stake for insurers to simply cancel benefits based on scant, secondhand information, especially when the source of such information is the internet, without discussing with the claimant and fully understanding the situation in order to make an informewd decision regarding continued eigibility for benefits.

  26. Johnc951 says:

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