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How to protect your greatest asset – your mind. Let’s talk about mental health awareness.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, our Assistant Director, Head of Protection & Health Roshani Hewa blogs on how workplaces and the insurance industry can help support those suffering from mental ill health. 

Is the mental health taboo really disappearing?

While it’s clear that the tides are beginning to turn on the taboo surrounding mental health, society (and businesses) still have a long way to go. People are becoming much more open about discussing mental health issues and the need for mental wellness is now considered obvious, however the solutions are not always easy to identify.

What do we mean by mental health issues? Stress, depression and anxiety all fall within this phrase, and 1 in 4 people every year will experience some form of mental health problem. According to the World Health Organisation, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability in the world, with an enormous increase in the number of people who report living with the condition.

It’s unsurprising that mental health is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.  What does come as a surprise, considering this, is that 3 in 10 employees don’t believe that their employer provides enough mental health support. Providing additional support can help to reduce workplace absence and should be a core consideration for employers aiming to build an effective employee wellbeing strategy.

Time to face the harsh reality

I recently spoke to Kathryn Knowles, MD of Cura Financial Services, a specialist insurer brokerage. As someone who is an advocate for the insurance industry and having voiced her own difficulties getting life insurance and critical illness cover as a customer with a history of anxiety issues and agoraphobia, she provided me with an insightful view of the need to combat the ever-present mental health illness epidemic:

“When it comes to the workplace, stress and depression are right up there with the leading causes for time off work. It’s a harsh reality that many workplace environments focus more upon achieving targets than the employees working to reach them. When we think of employee health and safety practices, we probably think of fresh drinking water, ergonomic seating, hard hats, safety harnesses and protective clothing. We often forget about the importance of health in the mind.”

According to mental health charities in the UK, mixed anxiety and depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem in the country, with 7.8% of the population meeting the criteria for the condition, which is believed to account for one fifth of all days taken off work.

The Centre of Mental Health recently stated that investing in prevention initiatives to reduce mental health inequalities can be challenging for local councils facing repeated budget cuts and financial difficulties. As a result, there is an increasing need for employers to support their employees, and for individuals to be aware of the existing support in the market.  

Where do I get support?

When asking Knowles on how individuals and employees can get support for their mental health challenges, she encouraged the need to increase awareness of the products and services that are already out there.

“In an ideal world, the first port of call for any employee needing mental health support should be their manager or human resources department. However, depending upon the size of the organisation, resources available, and empathy of colleagues, in house help for mental health issues may not be the best option. This is where a surprising side benefit of some Life Insurance, Critical Illness, Private Medical, Cash Plans and Income Protection policies stand out. It is possible to get insurance with mental health conditions, you just need to know the right places to look for it; something that I learned personally.

“Insurers themselves are doing their part to help people with mental health issues on individual policies. It is possible that after a successful Income Protection claim, insurers will support the client to return to work when they are ready, by reducing the pressure placed on them to return to work in one go. Broadly speaking, if the client returns to work part-time to build themselves up, many insurers will continue to pay part of the claim. The addition of support services such as RedArc and Square Health can help to bring a new dimension to protection, offering access to specialist assistance that provide support if mental health struggles begin.”

Mental illness Income Protection Claims

ABI 2017 statistics show that mental illness claims were 11% of all new individual income protection claims paid and represented an increase from 2016. Mental illness claims also continue to make up a substantial proportion of existing claims at the start of the year – 26% in 2017.

Claims relating to mental illness have the largest average pay outs of income protection policies and are paid out over a longer period of time, giving those suffering with mental ill health the support they need for as long as they need it.

So what next?

“There are many mental health charities within the UK”, says Knowles, “Including MindAnxiety UKSane and The Samaritans to name a but a few. I think that we can learn a great deal from charities, about useful support services to help prevent and manage mental health issues, something that the insurance industry is starting to do.

“Many insurers are adding support services that give access to mental health professionals. Insurers are developing more options to offer insurance to people with existing mental health conditions, decision makers are becoming more mindful that having a mental health condition doesn’t automatically make you a higher risk of making a claim.”

Our mind is our most valuable asset, and like any asset we need to make sure that it’s properly taken care of. The insurance industry is committed to helping support their customers through mental health struggles, but this will only work if people feel confident enough to seek the help they need. And this can only happen if we all work together to eradicate mental health stigma.

Last updated 18/05/2018