COVID-19 is driving more mental health awareness...and opportunity?

Natalie is a 33-year-old single mother. She's been home schooling her two children, managing the house and holding down her office job from home. What's more, she's now contemplating new concerns as the kids return to school. Despite never having a negative mental health episode in the past, Natalie is highly stressed and would likely be diagnosed with some form of clinical anxiety if she didn't feel so bad about using the overstretched healthcare system. Her story represents many who are feeling the effects of COVID-19 without ever having the disease*.

Social isolation, fear of the unknown and economic impacts are creating a 'perfect storm' of consequences for people's mental wellbeing. We introduced various aspects of this threat in our recent Trend Spotlight.  In fact, long before COVID-19, we'd already identified mental health as one of our "Big Six" Lifestyle Risks – six less quantifiable, but critical, underwriting factors we want to understand better in order to improve product offerings, risk selection, the consumer experience and even overall health.

As part of this effort, we spoke to more than 4,000 consumers across seven markets during the height of lockdown. Conversations were part of an ongoing research project aimed at understanding everyday consumers' thoughts around mental health and where insurance might play a role.

This growing awareness of our mental health, and more openness about it, started long before the COVID-19 outbreak, but today's situation has accelerated the trend.

Here's a first look at some of the headline insights:

1 in 4 will consider mental health more seriously in the future

Nearly half of respondents are more concerned about their mental health because of COVID-19. Some are concerned for now, but don't think mental health concerns will be an ongoing issue post-crisis (21%). On the other hand, 24% have started to recognise the impact of mental health challenges and will continue to do so even after the crisis passes.

Younger people are most concerned

The youngest age group (age 25-40) make up the highest proportion of those who have always been concerned about the topic. But across all age groups, there is a consistent approximate 45% who changed their view toward mental health because of COVID-19.

The oldest age group in the study (age 56-70) is more likely to say that mental health is not an issue. This echoes other studies which demonstrate that older people tend to be more content, and their greater wealth and financial security is likely a factor. Conversely, some of the older generation could be less inclined to admit showing concern for their mental wellbeing, potentially masking a more serious consequence.

Those showing moderate stress are more likely to see increasing concern

A history of stress influences how concerned people are. Those who have endured moderate stress prior to the outbreak are more likely to experience an increased concern about mental health today (see chart). Similarly, those who report high stress levels have an existing track record of mental health concern. Those who have experienced no stress in the last year show much less concern for their mental wellbeing, even during this crisis.

What can insurance do?

Insurers have an opportunity to support consumers across several areas:

  • Build new solutions: Awareness is the first step to action. Forward-thinking insurers can provide new – or enhance existing – solutions to help consumers achieve a better understanding of their risk, support prevention and encourage early intervention during a negative mental health episode; younger generations' concern is one area for focus
  • Underwriting: With more consumers aware of their susceptibility to mental health difficulties, re/insurers could help them along the way. This includes finding better forms of early identification for greater long-term success and underwriting by using methods that are holistic, progressive and supported by up to date evidence-based research
  • Claims with support: Sharing best practice between markets, with the help of global reinsurers' rehabilitation teams and an evidence-based approach, could create advanced prevention and intervention programmes

The COVID-19 crisis is a turning point in many ways, but we believe the increased attention on mental health can be one of the positives for our industry, providing an opportunity to give more support to the likes of Natalie. Our consumer research demonstrates the heightened awareness, the openness and the timing is right for insurers to play a more active role in helping more people in the post-pandemic world.

Contact your Swiss Re representative to learn more.

*Natalie is a representative case, based on several statistical findings from the research.

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