Mental health and insurance - It’s time to talk
Helen Croft, Underwriting and Claims Strategy Manager
Wednesday 27 February 2019
In recent years, there has been a seismic shift in understanding and awareness of mental health issues. For the first time, as a nation, we’re finding it easier to talk, to get help and to educate ourselves about mental illness. We understand how it can and does affect anyone at any time.
For a long time mental health issues have not had the same focus as physical health issues. This is starting to change. The NHS has just announced an extra £2.3bn of funding for mental health care and new mental health targets for the first time.* In the media and in workplaces, people are starting to talk more openly about mental health and wellbeing and there have been initiatives supporting open conversations to reduce the stigma around mental health, such as #TimeToTalk day**
Mental health in insurance
The insurance conversation is one that's really taking off. Discussions are rumbling across the industry about how we underwrite people with mental health conditions. What we can do to make the insurance mental health conversation easier? How can we make sure this is fair and reasonable? And how can offer more insurance to more people with mental health conditions?
Changes in underwriting of mental health
It’s not only perception and understanding of mental health that is changing, underwriting of mental health conditions is changing too. With the ongoing industry conversations, underwriters now have a better understanding of mental health conditions and a greater awareness of a normal reaction to traumatic life events versus an actual significant mental health condition. Underwriters will always try to look at the whole picture but this is even more of a challenge with mental health conditions where one person’s experience can be different from someone else’s.
The vast majority of mental health issues that people tell us about on applications for life insurance are mild to moderate depression, stress or anxiety. We’ve recently improved our system rules to ensure more of these scenarios can get accepted immediately at standard rates, meaning more of our clients can now get access to the insurance they need.
The balance of modern underwriting is understanding when the expertise of a manual underwriter is needed. We acknowledge that for more serious and complex histories of mental health issues that an element of individual consideration is needed. So, we’ve also made changes to our system rules to refer more of these cases to an underwriter so they can use their skills and judgement to look at the whole picture. For example, if someone has a history of multiple episodes of self-harm or suicidal thoughts over 10 years ago, an underwriter can look at the specific details on a case-by-case basis, and make an informed decision.
What else can insurers do?
Mental health treatments, particularly counselling services, remain difficult to obtain through the NHS, so additional services provided by insurance companies can be valuable here. Income protection policies can provide support if someone finds themselves unable to work due to a mental health condition but some insurers also have value added services that can provide additional support in times of need.
Claims teams deal with people at times in their lives when they have to deal with unexpected and often traumatic events, at times when mental health and wellbeing will likely be impacted. It’s important we remember this and treat our customers with the care and compassion they need during this unthinkably difficult time.
We all have a part to play and underwriters can play their part by joining the conversation about mental health, making it easier for people to tell us about their mental health in a way that feels non-judgemental and trying to be open and honest about our underwriting stances.