Good mental health is essential to good overall health. Yet more people are living with mental health conditions than ever before. With my own experience of anxiety and panic attacks following a family tragedy, I know first-hand why it’s so important for insurance coverage to support people’s efforts to boost their mental health and wellbeing.
I first experienced anxiety and panic attacks when I was 12 years old, after the sudden death of my younger brother, Ben. As I lived with this loss, I grappled with these conditions through school, university and even into my first job as an intensive care nurse. And while mental health challenges can feel isolating, I know now that I was not alone.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, about one in eight people globally were living with mental health conditions, according to the World Health Organization. With people’s wellbeing put to the test over the past three years, we now face what has grown into a global mental health crisis.
With so many of us facing challenges to mental health, I’m pleased that my company is a vocal advocate of World Mental Health Day on 10 October. The 2023 theme, ‘Mental health is a universal human right’, couldn’t be more fitting as advocates call for more organisations and governments to step up their game in meaningful ways.
Insurers and reinsurers across the UK and beyond are increasingly committing to providing inclusive coverage, accessibility, and support for those grappling with mental health conditions. These are nice sounding words, but what exactly do they mean in practice, both for me as an employee at one of the world’s largest reinsurers, and as an individual passionate supporter of initiatives aimed at improving mental health?
It starts with underwriting
Underpinning Swiss Re’s own underwriting approach is a commitment to fair risk assessment and to protect as many lives as possible. Mental illness is a complex, multifaceted medical condition that requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach.
While mental health diagnoses often aim to categorise conditions, every person grappling with mental health obstacles has a unique set of circumstances, with differing symptoms, treatment paths, and support systems. It’s therefore important to take this biopsychosocial model into account when underwriting.
Mental health research has accelerated over the past 20 years, as we grow more attuned to its drivers as well as opportunities to treat its conditions. As an industry, we must prioritise reviewing the latest science and data, while engaging in ‘horizon scanning’ for new and evolving topics.
As an industry, we must prioritise reviewing the latest science and data, while engaging in ‘horizon scanning’ for new and evolving topics
For Swiss Re’s part, one example of this is our recent guidance to underwriters now encountering increasing instances where people aiming to address mental health and wellbeing are turning to ‘microdosing’ with psychedelics. The emerging science of nutrition’s impact on mental health is another area where we’re seeking new approaches to addressing persistent insurance/reinsurance challenges.
Despite an increasing body of research in the mental health field, much remains poorly understood. After all, there can be vast differences across the same conditions. While hypertension, or high blood pressure, tends to manifest itself similarly across a population, depression often looks vastly different from one person to the next.
Given this complexity, as well as the personal nature and nuance of mental health conditions, we feel that empowering underwriters to apply expert insight, whilst supported by a rigorous framework, is the best approach.
In our own approach, we also aim to improve mental health and support people before they experience a crisis, when a claim is filed, and during their journey back to mental health.
Monitor, manage, support across the lifecycle
In recent years, it’s been great to see the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) mental wellbeing solutions tailored for insurance.
Just one example of this is a pilot we recently launched with MLC in Australia, in conjunction with Wysa. This particular solution is designed to help users monitor and manage their mental wellbeing, directing them to offline support when ‘red flags’ emerge and alerting them via the app that a possible negative mental health experience is imminent.
Solutions like this focus on early intervention – including stress-relief programmes and therapeutic techniques, as well as exercises and wellbeing scores – to help users stay focused on their mental health.
Ultimately, we believe that mobile apps will also play a key role in helping insurers achieve a holistic, evidence-based approach to mental health claims, which recognises the relationships between physical health, psychological/social factors, and lifestyle stress.
Mental health touches everyone
World Mental Health Day provides a timely opportunity to talk about mental health, how to nurture it, and how important it is to get help if you are struggling. When I reflect on my own experiences, it’s clear that we’ve achieved so much since the 1990s to destigmatise mental illness, raise awareness and drive positive change for everyone.
After all, we’re all touched by it. It’s so important to continue the conversation, something I wished we had done earlier as a society. As I grappled with anxiety as a young woman, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I started the hard work to understand, treat and take control of my condition.
Today, I’ll start conversations about mental health, and I encourage you to do the same with family, friends and work colleagues
Fast-forward to today and I actively manage my mental health with a few key tools. These include efforts to build self-awareness, including meditation, walking (preferably in nature) and yoga, and maintaining strong connections with my family and friends.
What we call ‘the Big Six’ lifestyle factors – including physical activity, focusing on proper sleep, eating right and maintaining good mental health habits – can make a huge difference when it comes to strengthening personal resilience.
Life can be a rollercoaster. For me, staying alert so I know when to lean into my mental health toolkit ensures I’m better equipped to ride the ups and downs. Today, I’ll start conversations about mental health, and I encourage you to do the same with family, friends and work colleagues.
As an industry, there has never been a better time to reaffirm our commitment to expanding coverage and supporting those facing mental health challenges. Together we can ensure mental health is a basic human right.