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Verdun woman suffering from depression denied disability benefits

WATCH ABOVE: Jennifer Napper is speaking out after being denied disability insurance from her private insurer even though she’s been diagnosed with severe depression. As Global's Sarah Volstad reports, Napper has been placed on sick leave and is running out of income.

For a year, Jennifer Napper watched her health deteriorate. Dealing with a divorce and ailing parents, insomnia set in. She was exhausted, sad and couldn’t concentrate. Eventually, she lost the ability do the job she’s held for over 25 years.

“Fortunately, I have a compassionate employer,” said Napper. “They knew something was wrong. And towards the end of August I was completely fried.”

Napper consulted her GP, who immediately diagnosed her with reactive depression so severe it prevented her from working.

In the meantime, she filed a disability claim with her private insurer, Empire Life.

“They called and said: ‘we’re going do a telephone interview with you,'” said Napper. “I said: ‘ok that’s fine.’ I agreed to that. I did the interview and during the interview, I was told by the claim adjuster who was on the phone: ‘cancer patients work, depression does not make you totally disabled.’

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But Montreal psychologist, Dr. Camillo Zacchia, told Global News that simply isn’t true.

“Some people are so severely depressed they don’t get out of bed, they don’t shower, they don’t wash themselves, and so on,” said Zacchia. “So it can be extremely debilitating.”

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Still, the insurer denied her claim.

They said they reached that decision after their medical consultant discussed the matter with Napper’s doctor.

In one letter sent in December, Empire Life stated that Napper did not meet the definition of ‘total disability’ as contained in her policy.

However, based on the definition in her benefits booklet, Napper doesn’t understand how that could be.

“They have everything in their hands: they have the money, they have the lawyers, and they know you’re just a regular person,” said Napper.

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Global News reached out to Empire Life, who issued the following statement: “We review the information of every claim thoroughly before making a decision. In situations where we determine a disability claim is not eligible, we encourage and refer the claimant to have their case reviewed by an independent third party.”

However, Napper said she was told by two independent third parties that it could take anywhere between six months and a year for them to even look at her file — time she simply doesn’t have.

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Napper hasn’t had any income for almost six months. By the end of February, her savings will be depleted.

“I don’t understand how a company who takes your money monthly, charges you the premiums, you pay them faithfully, and then they actually can bankrupt you,” she said.

Since December, Napper is being followed by psychiatrists at the Douglas Mental Health Institute, who confirmed her sick leave as well as a diagnosis of major depressive disorder with severe anxiety.

All of this was sent to Empire Life.

“The last therapist said: ‘we can’t start treating you until we get this rectified, because this is keeping you up at night.'”

Napper has now appealed to the federal and provincial health ministers, as well as her local politicians, in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will come through for her.