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At the confluence of the pandemic, mental health and digital solutions

A new study from Oxford University showing how life expectancy around the globe fell in 2020 by a magnitude not seen since World War II once again brought home for me the tragedy of the pandemic. With such immense loss, it is no wonder that COVID-19 is also having a devastating effect on people's precious mental health.

As uncertainty over the future and the course of the pandemic weighs on people's minds, a recent survey by the Swiss Re Institute documented how depression, anxiety, even post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have been on the rise since COVID-19 entered the lexicon of our daily lives.

While we have made progress since the pandemic's early days, it's not over. Weary healthcare workers continue to battle the disease in intensive care units across the planet. Families continue to mourn. And while in many places kids are back in school, they're subject to mask and hygiene requirements reminding them we still have miles to go on the bumpy road back to "normal".

Permission to talk about mental health

Such human costs make this year's World Mental Health Day, on Sunday, 10 October 2021, an especially poignant occasion to ponder the fragility of our psychological well-being and the importance of making sure that we pay attention to the signals our minds and our bodies are sending.

If there is one thing about the pandemic we can perhaps take some heart from, however, it is that this crisis appears to have somehow freed people, in particular young people, to speak more openly about the importance of addressing mental health issues.

Surveys from big global organizations have documented this new openness about what has historically been a sensitive subject. And Swiss Re's own recent research in markets including the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Australia and Canada has drawn some of the same conclusions.

It is as if the shock and turmoil of the past 20 months have suddenly given us permission to discuss challenges our society faces on the mental health front just a little more candidly. These challenges are nothing new but have often been neglected or even stigmatized. Bringing them out into the open can help.

New opportunities to help

Another shift accelerated by the pandemic is the urgency for companies including insurers to offer digital solutions due to social distancing and other restrictions. Our clients may be more likely to engage with these now as an alternative to traditional, in-person channels that have long dominated mental healthcare.

In talking to consumers, we have learned many would welcome innovative protection from insurers for their mental health and well-being. They expect that insurance products to support mental health include an easy-to-access digital app, including to help address mental health episodes. Still, an app alone is not sufficient, they told us. Apps should provide expert, evidence-based advice as well as access to offline support, when it is necessary.

This confluence of trends – an increased focus on mental health coupled with the need for user-friendly, evidence-based digital solutions, all set into motion by a global pandemic -- presents new opportunities for intervening quickly in the lives of those struggling with unprecedented stresses, to speed them on the road to recovery.

Providing people with convenient, effective options to address challenges to their well-being before these become debilitating or permanent makes a powerful contribution to making societies more resilient.

Part of the solution

Long before we ever learned of a new coronavirus, Swiss Re saw a larger role for insurers in helping societies address mental health, to help close the life and health protection gap that leaves too many people vulnerable.

As one of Swiss Re's "Big Six" lifestyle factors, mental well-being and happiness, and on the flip side, anxiety, mood, stress and illnesses like schizophrenia, have a profound impact on mortality and morbidity. We're deeply interested in how the COVID-19 pandemic may influence these risk factors, and deeply committed to solutions for insurers to help turn the tide.

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