Protection  

Why we must be kinder as an industry

Johnny Timpson

Johnny Timpson

The focus of the current public health crisis has understandably been on the human cost of the virus as the medical community has battled to ensure patients are provided with the care and services they need.

However, now we are in Mental Health Awareness Week, a greater focus is being placed on a looming mental illness crisis as millions of people worldwide are forced into isolation, poverty and anxiety by the pandemic.

It is estimated that up to 23m people in the UK could be struggling with poor mental wellbeing since the outbreak began.

While mental health discourse has become more prevalent in recent years, almost one in three people still wrongly believe that a history of mental health issues will harm their prospects of accessing protection insurance.

According to Mental Health UK, poor mental wellbeing affects more people every year than cancer or heart disease. Being so common, why is there still such confusion when it comes to customers financially protecting their own and their family’s health?

Our research tells us that one in three UK adults believe someone who has a history of depression will have more trouble accessing protection insurance.

The number of people believing that mental health conditions will impact their access to protection is high across the board, from anxiety (with 25 per cent believing it will restrict their eligibility) and bipolar disorder (35 per cent), through to schizophrenia (43 per cent).

It is so important that we help people to understand that mental health is treated in the same way as any other illness or ailment. At Scottish Widows, life cover terms are offered to 96 per cent of customers who disclose any kind of mental condition.

Improving disclosure rates (the number of customers who specify on an application that they have a mental health condition) is something that we need to improve as an industry.

The mental illness disclosure rate of policy holders at Scottish Widows currently sits at 14 per cent.

While this is an improvement from previous years, we recognise that there are many more people out there who would benefit from financial support during a challenging time but are not making themselves known.  

There are a few practical things that can be done industry-wide to ensure we are being as kind and considerate as possible to those dealing with mental health issues.

Lifting the lid on underwriting

More than one in four (27 per cent) of people do not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with an insurance company.

The first step in reducing this percentage is opening up and being more transparent about our processes, explaining step-by-step how applications are handled from the start.

The more detail we can share with customers on how their application is assessed, the better.

Signposting

One in three people (33 per cent) do not think the insurance industry does enough to support customers with mental health issues. I am saddened by this statistic but it serves as a reminder to advisers and insurers that more must be done.