We are just coming out of Mental Health Awareness Week, and whilst this time has been extremely important to increase knowledge and end stigma, we need to make sure that this empathy becomes the norm, all year round.
I have been popping in and out of insurance publications recently, voicing my own difficulties getting life insurance and critical illness cover, having had a history of anxiety issues and agoraphobia. This led to me being invited to comment for the Association of British Insurers blog on mental health and the work place, from the unique perspective as an "impaired" client and an insurance adviser.
Ten years ago it felt like all my hard work to get myself better, was for nothing, when an insurer said my cover had to be at "special terms". My mum says I am special and it makes me feel good, but having an insurer say it, made me feel like I should be sent to a secluded island somewhere.
The insurance industry has received its fair share of bad press when it comes to mental health issues. In many ways, who can blame journalists for jumping onto the mean insurers, that ask clients to fill in an application for 30 minutes, then decline them due to their mental health? It must be significantly disheartening for this to happen and it certainly will not help any mental health issues that are in place: Why aren't I insurable? What's wrong with me? I'm not as well as I thought I was. I've been declined cover, no one will accept me now.
I find this situation extremely frustrating. Having read the recent articles in the UK press that shame the insurance industry, I want to shout from the rooftops "You are insurable!" I know full well that there is no point whatsoever in applying for cover with Insurer X if you have bipolar disorder, depression, or have a history of suicide attempts, but Insurers A, B, C will be able to offer insurance. I know that using a price comparison site can be misleading if you have a health condition. The cheapest insurer may triple your premium or decline cover due to your health, when Insurer A who was originally £1 dearer, may offer the policy at the basic premium.
Insurance and mental health is not all doom and gloom though. I recently made a case study video of how we arranged short term income protection and life insurance for a client with bipolar, depression and a history of suicide attempts (link at the bottom of this guide).
An important change that I experienced, when arranging my own insurance, was that insurance underwriters have become more empathetic over the last few years. They let me talk to them. They let me explain why I had significant periods of anxiety, the triggers that caused them and agreed that these were exceptional circumstances that were unlikely to occur again.
1 in 4 people every year, will experience some form of mental health problem and it's time to change attitudes towards mental health conditions across society as a whole. The prevention of mental health issues should be a key focus of any employer. Employees are not going to be able to work at their best, if they are severely anxious about work targets, depressed by family drama, or embarrassed by the drunken work night pictures that are making the way around social media.
Whilst we cannot know whether a specific activity is going to trigger a mental illness in someone, we can put measures in place to help prevent them from developing or becoming significantly worse. For some employers setting up mental health support services may seem quite a daunting task, but there can be a rather simple solution for all involved.
Employers can arrange what is known as Group Life or Income Protection schemes. The beauty of group schemes is that they are not generally medically underwritten, meaning that people with mental health issues that have been unable to get insurance individually, can get cover without exclusions. These policies often come with added support facilities, providing people with access to counselling services and other benefits, if their mental health starts to decline. When it comes to Income Protection, many insurers now offer rehabilitation benefit. Claimants can slowly return to work, build their confidence, and a portion of their monthly benefit claim is still paid to top them up, until they can return to work fully.
Whilst this is the case, the insurance industry still has a long way to go, as people are still being declined cover due to their mental health. We need to remember that we are dealing with people. We should establish a duty of care to clients who are declined cover. Instead of saying, right you are declined cover off you go. We should have processes in place to say, we're sorry we can't give you cover, so here are a group of specialists who can point you in the right direction.
It's time to change as a society, as employers, as insurers, as husbands, wives, parents and friends. We need to support, and not stifle or shame. It's time to let people truly get the inside out.
For more information on mental health and insurance please see the following pages:
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