"An insidious thing" is a personal thing. Why insurance can and should do more to support mental wellbeing

"Anxiety is an insidious thing," says Karen1, an Australian in her 30s. "It can creep in at the most unexpected times, cause loss of sleep, restlessness, negative thoughts, social isolation, doubts."

I must agree with her. From personal experience, I also understand that anxiety can be overwhelming.

A combination of raising a young family and intense work pressures – that I mainly put on myself – all whilst studying were the catalysts that led to my anxiety diagnosis in 2012. An understanding line manager, an incredibly supportive wife, finding a counsellor who worked for me, the revelation of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and an almost-fanatical commitment to physical exercise all led to my recovery.

Though not my first, this most recent episode of poor mental health is a stark reminder I'm vulnerable – and so are many people around us.

This explains why leading the effort to develop a mental wellness solution at Swiss Re is very personal for me. When you're open about your own struggles, it's surprising how many people share their own past or ongoing negative mental health episodes. Being open about mental wellbeing is definitely a good thing and our research participants gave us great insights.

About our research

First we identified a potential market of 45 million people across six markets who see insurers being highly relevant on the topic of mental wellbeing. Then we followed with deeper research to understand specific needs of people in this segment, and that's how we met Karen.

Approximately one in five of our target segment had a negative mental health episode in the last year (it's a little over one in ten across the entire population2).  However, like Karen, many of these people are managing their conditions very well. In fact, our target segment is as likely to rate their mental wellbeing as "good" or "very good" as someone outside this segment.

Most are unaware insurers offer coverage for mental health across many products. Between 64% in Canada and the US and 81% in the UK say they can't confidently name an insurance product that covers them against a negative mental health event. Our research also shows this lack of awareness was in some cases mixed with distrust and an underlying perception that insurers don't promote their mental wellness provisions to avoid paying claims. 

Striving to improve

The few who had already experienced submitting a claim expressed feeling despondent and overwhelmed, often passed from one claims handler to another, having to repeatedly explain – and relive – what has been a harrowing experience.

Karen herself expressed one disappointing encounter this way: "I rung up my health insurer to see what I could claim and found that they wouldn't pay for the medication as it was $2 below their minimum for payments."

Despite the lack of positive stories in our research, there are many insurers helping people recover. What's more, there are clear signs our industry is striving to improve.

New solutions

Swiss Re now has deep insights into the problems consumers need help solving and we are making progress, together with our clients, to create and bring applicable, relevant solutions to market. I firmly believe that insurers will soon be doing far more to support people like Karen. And people like me, back in 2012.

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