COVER talks to Lee Lovett, managing director, group protection at AIG Life, about the increasing numbers of young people seeking mental health support via group protection
Last week, AIG Life revealed the findings of recent research which showed a growing demand for private services to help people suffering mental health issues, most notably among the 18-35 age group.
The insurance provider's recorded increased demand for mental health help among members of group risk schemes via its wellbeing service, Smart Health, a digital healthcare service delivered by global telehealth provider Teladoc Health.
Over half (57%) of those seeking Smart Health mental health and psychologist consultations are aged 18-35 and 5% are under 18, AIG found.
Young people might find it easier in that first instance to talk to a stranger about mental health pressures via a phone or video call, rather than approach their own GP.”
COVER talks to Lee Lovett, managing director, group protection at AIG Life, about the state of mental health support for young people and as part of group protection offerings on a wider scale.
Recent ONS data has highlighted the rising levels of depression in young people throughout the pandemic, so it is a surprise to see this age group looking for mental health support via group protection products?
"I don't think it's a surprise that young people are using what are effectively free services, and making the most of the benefits that they get from their company or employer. The publicity campaign has done a good job of teaching us all that it's okay not to be okay, and that there's no stigma in seeking help.
"Many employers have stepped up during this crisis to do more to help employees through the pandemic and the consequences of this. Being at arms' length from the people we might usually speak to in person will have tested people's emotional resilience.
"Some of the people turning to group protection services like Smart Health from AIG for help are parents whose children's mental health may have been heavily affected by lockdown. They've had the benefit of being able to have their child speak to a psychologist and get some specialist support or counselling from the comfort of their own home."
Could this be a generational mindset, with young people more prepared to seek help and flexible to look at alternate options as opposed to waiting it out?
"Young people are clearly very comfortable engaging through the digital world, or looking for digital solutions to a problem. And they do seem to be more open to acknowledging when they've mental health challenges. I think it's a great endorsement of the services insurers offer that people are turning to them regularly.
"If you're already struggling with anxiety, it takes courage to make that first step and ask for help. Young people might find it easier in that first instance to talk to a stranger about mental health pressures via a phone or video call, rather than approach their own GP."
Could the real scale of the mental health issues among this age group be much wider, given that the data only provides a snapshot of those engaging with this particular group protection product?
"This pandemic has been tough on all of us, and I do think the scale of mental health pressures could be much wider that we realise.
"It's the youngest workers, those who were maybe in hospitality or retail jobs, or recently out of university, who are most likely to have lost their jobs or been affected financially. They don't have access to the services from their employer that could help them get through an emotionally difficult time. So, they might not know where to turn to get help.
"That's only what we can see at the moment too. There could well be an impact in the future on young people whose education has been disrupted or whose exams have been cancelled, or who are worried about their job prospects. That's why it's important that every employee who has access to group protection benefits like health and wellbeing services are given the chance to share it with their kids too."
With NHS waiting times seemingly only set to grow, should employers with group protection be looking to embed these types of support services into their cultural fabric on a permanent basis?
"I believe employers have a duty of care to make sure that the services they provide are embedded in their cultural fabric, and that employee benefits are promoted much more to employees. They can make a real difference to the people behind their business or organisation.
"It could also build loyalty if the paternalistic employer can show employees how useful they are for their - and their family's - everyday health.
"Six out of 10 (59%) employees told us in previous research that they felt guilty about taking time out of work for medical appointments - half had missed or cancelled medical appointments to prioritise work even though employers were flexible about work.
"We've learned through this pandemic that our health is important. Take it a step further and be clear as an employer that you genuinely care about people's health by giving them the tools to better manage their health, and the good employees will likely want to stay."
You can find all of COVER's editorial and resources for Mental Health Awareness Week here.