Removing stigma, improving access to insurance and providing better support to employees
On 14 March, over 200 industry professionals attended the inaugural COVER Mental Health Forum in London.
Chaired by our own Adam Saville, the day started with the emotional story that led to the viral #FindMike campaign and ended with a captivating message from Lord Dennis Stevenson. It delivered moving stories, insights into mental health and discussion around what more we should be doing as an industry in this space.
Two clear themes emerged throughout the day, the first being how our industry needs to rethink mental health when it comes to the provision of insurance products to consumers.
The second being how businesses should be better supporting their employees, and the benefits of doing so, from both a moral and commercial perspective.
It became clear that as an industry we are behind the curve on this topic, as observed by Neil Laybourn, mental health campaigner, in the opening keynote session, "things are moving but there's still a lot of work to do". An uphill battle that will continue to be so until we challenge the stigma around mental health.
The mental health stigma
The stats are eye-opening. One in four adults will experience mental health issues at some point each year in the UK, but that's only diagnosed cases.
Shockingly, it's believed that 75% of cases are left undiagnosed, explained Mark Hashimi, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, during his presentation on The Mental Health Landscape.
The sad fact is that people often don't disclose their mental health struggles because of the negative perceptions they face. And this extends to the workplace. Hashimi explained that nine out of 10 employees face stigma at work, with mental health being the "elephant in the room".
Many of the presentations throughout the day touched on the misconceptions around mental health, in particular, the fact that mental health is not the same as mental illness.
Hashimi mentioned the negative language that surrounds mental health, words like anxiety, stress and suicide. And this negativity extends beyond diagnosis and into the care space.
Jonny Benjamin MBE, mental health campaigner, spoke of his experience receiving care in a psychiatric ward and explained that "positivity lacks within mental health care", which left him sadly unable to reach out for support when met with suicidal thoughts.
Andrew Wibberley, director of Alea Risk, discussed the negativity around mental health in the insurance industry during his insight session. "Have you had stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia or felt tired in the last five years?" is the question income protection applicants are faced with. Wibberley's answer, "who hasn't!?".
He explained that the underwriting process should be used as an opportunity to understand an applicant's resilience to mental health challenges, turning a negative question into one like "what things did you do to improve your mental health?", would provide insurers with much more valuable information around behaviour and therefore the risk profile of applicants.
While Wibberley explained that most applicants for income protection, who disclose mental health issues, will be offered terms, the majority will have a mental health exclusion applied. But admittedly, insurers don't have an easy task when it comes to assessing risk around mental health.
Dr Keith Klintworth, deputy CEO of VitalityHealth, spoke of the challenges private medical insurance (PMI) providers face in his insight session. He explained that GP information is often lacking around an applicant's mental health, again representative of the fact that people are not talking about their struggles and seeking support. It's therefore difficult to accurately underwrite applicants and most likely why blanket exclusions get applied.
Mental health is costing British businesses huge sums of money, £42bn each year to be exact. This is the cost of staff absence, turnover and presenteeism, explained Hashimi. Costs that will undoubtedly continue to rise until businesses become better at spotting and supporting mental health.
Shockingly, only two out of five employees feel their manager could spot if they were struggling, pointed out Pam Whelan, director of corporate at SimplyHealth, in her insight session.
She went on to provide what she sees as the five key ingredients to mental wellbeing in the workplace, namely:
- Improving awareness
- Getting buy-in from senior leaders
- Mental health training for managers
- Having ambassadors for mental health
- Linking health benefits to mental health
The training of staff was touched on throughout the day. Jaan Madan, head of commercial development at Mental Health First Aid, during the Changing the Conversation panel, spoke of their training course designed to teach people how to identify and support a mental health sufferer. Mental health is a complex area and it is clearly important to have adequately trained staff members on hand to colleagues in need.
Another support route for employees, which takes the pressure away from trained colleagues, comes in the form of employee assistance programmes (EAPs), offering employees confidential counselling and advice on a wide range of issues.
Christine Husbands, managing director at RedArc, during the Wellness at Work panel, explained the importance of having an external and confidential service available to staff members, who may not be comfortable discussing concerns with their colleagues.
EAPs deliver fantastic support to employees around mental health, but surprisingly utilisation of these services is low, at only 5%, explained Eugene Farrell, mental health lead at AXA PPP, during his insight session. He believes technology may have a role to play in growing this.
Hashimi provided a word of warning, "beware of the tick-box approach" when considering how companies look at mental health in the workplace. They need to deliver long term, sustainable and holistic support if they are going to change habits and really improve how they support the mental health of their workforce.
The role of technology
Understandably, technology entered most discussions. Hannah Loveday, founder of YogaLoveday, spoke of panic attacks and anxiety in "screenagers" being driven by social media and phone addiction, during her mindfulness session.
Despite the concerns surrounding technology, the workforce is evolving with millennials now making up 35%, so it's important that businesses embrace tech and recognise the benefits it can deliver.
"Digitisation creates a much wider reach, appealing to millennials," explained Farrell, when considering how to grow EAP usage.
"Through tech, there's a far lower barrier to entry," explained Simon Jay, commercial director of Thrive, a smartphone application offering support for mental wellbeing, during the Talking Tech panel. Jay compared this to the barrier presented by EAPs, with many of the services only being available via the telephone.
Farrell provided some staggering statistics around app usage during his insight session. He explained that 75% of people with mental health problems have downloaded mental wellbeing apps and 62% of those apps are used on a daily basis.
While it is clear that technology has a role to play in the mental health space, Farrell issued a word of caution around the technological solutions available. He explained that iCBT has so far not provided superior results when compared to face-to-face support.
For Jay, "variety is key". Mental health is different for everyone and no one size fits all. Tech should be seen as more of a facilitator, rather than a replacement for human support.
Prevention is better than cure
Something we often hear in a physical health context but is also relevant for mental health. The services offered to employees via EAPs and to insurance policyholders via value-added benefits can help to improve mental wellbeing and reduce the chances of a mental health issue becoming a mental illness.
Klintworth explained that when Vitality analysed the mindfulness app usage of their policyholders, they were surprised to learn that the majority had no identified risk factors for mental health. Clearly, people are actively looking to manage their mental wellbeing.
Income protection policies are now being designed with this in mind and we should see an impact of these preventative features on claims stats. "We would love to say we pay all claims we can't prevent," explained Suzy Esson, head of operations at Holloway Friendly, during the Changing the Conversation panel.
During his insight session, Adam Higgs, head of research at Protection Guru, explained that he thinks we should be doing more to promote the positive news stories around our products and the support offered for mental health, particularly on products like income protection.
Using powerful customer case studies and highlighting the benefits of the value-added services, will not only improve the perception of insurance but will support advisers in their conversations with clients.
No magic fix
"There is no magic fix: you just have to put one foot in front of the other," said Luke Ashworth, Founder of ProtectionGeek.co.uk, during a moving story about his struggles with mental health.
Our industry has made some positive steps towards better mental health support through technology, product design and employee support services. But the opportunity for us to transform mental wellbeing is huge considering the sheer number of people our products touch.
The challenge is, however, the mental health stigmas and negative perceptions that still exist. To change these will likely be a longer process, rather than an overnight fix.
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