Quebec woman Nathalie Blanchard poses on the beach in a Facebook photograph that convinced her insurance company that she was no longer depressed.

Quebec woman Nathalie Blanchard poses on the beach in a Facebook photograph that convinced her insurance company that she was no longer depressed.

Can you really determine someone’s mental state by looking at a photograph? Manulife, a Canadian-based financial services company, apparently thinks so.

Nathalie Blanchard, a 29-year-old IBM employee from Quebec, took a long-term sick leave from her job after being diagnosed with major depression. Her doctor told her to try & have fun, and to take a sunny vacation to get away from her problems. She did just that while she received monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife.

And she posted her vacation photos on her private Facebook profile.

But recently, the monthly payments stopped. So, Blanchard contacted her insurance company to see why she was no longer receiving her benefits:

When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that “I’m available to work, because of Facebook,” she told CBC News this week.

She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.

But can a series of photographs really demonstrate that someone is no longer depressed?

Blanchard confirmed that she’s happy “in the moment” that the photo is taken, but “before and after, [she has] the same problems”.

According to CBC news, the insurer has confirmed that they do indeed use Facebook to investigate their clients, but the company claims that it wouldn’t “deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook”.

Claude Distasio, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, tells CBC News that insurance companies “must weigh information found on…sites” like Facebook.

But how much weight should something like a photograph taken in a sunny locale carry? I think it’s fairly obvious to say that even folks grappling with major depression smile once in awhile. Sure, I personally struggle with anxiety, but I’m calm sometimes — placid, in fact, if you catch me at the right time. People dealing with agoraphobia are probably going to find themselves out in public on a good day. Does a photograph of an agoraphobic in a public area demonstrate that agoraphobia is no longer a problem? How about a photo of an insomniac, sleeping soundly? Making mental health judgment calls based off a mere photograph — a single, isolated, and brief moment of time — is a slippery slope.

Take a look at your own Facebook profile picture. Does it accurately portray your mood at the moment it was taken? How about your long-term disposition? Look at it analytically from an outsider’s perspective. If you suffer from a mental illness, is there evidence of that illness in the photograph? Is a photograph a valid measure of anything other than a visual record of a moment?