Never before has our mental health received such a moment in the media spotlight.
While arguments abound as to whether mental health problems are actually on the rise, one thing is for sure, we are seeing a huge cultural shift that is chipping away at the stigma around talking about mental health.
This means that more people are getting the help they need, which can only be a good thing.
It also means that many areas of society have a challenge on their hands to keep pace with this shift.
On that, the protection industry – group and individual – is no exception. So how are things looking so far? Is the industry leading from the front? Moving with the times? Or lagging behind?
Underwriting practices and core product design have seen little change, according to the experts we spoke with for the purposes of this article.
However, the market for added value services - the kind of things that may be accessed once a protection policy is in force - has grown considerably: everything from virtual GPs, health MOTs and Employee Assistance Programmes to mindfulness apps and stress resilience training.
Such services can bring proven benefits to individuals. Unfortunately, utilisation remains incredibly low, more on which later.
The biggest industry shift noted by all our commentators is in the appetite to normalise stress and anxiety. Insurers have “started to accept that life happens” says Kathryn Knowles, managing director, Cura Financial Services.
“There is more openness now to listen to a person’s story before just discounting their application. Instead of looking at someone and seeing the mental health red flag and automatically assuming they are a higher risk of suicide, insurers understand that life events happen and people can struggle.
“It’s probably much safer to insure someone that has been diagnosed with depression and is actively taking steps to address it, than someone who has not sought help and been given the mental health label.”
Key change drivers
The last 18 months alone has seen a huge amount of surveys, reports and workshops, all highlighting where the protection industry needs to make improvements. Two developments, however, stand out in terms of leading all-industry thinking.
For the group industry, the Stevenson Farmer review of mental health and employers Thriving at work.
And for the individual industry, the ABI established a Mental Health (MH) Working Group made up of health, protection and travel insurers.
Both initiatives support an overriding vision of helping move to a society where we are all more aware of – and able to cope with fluctuations in - our mental health and other people’s mental health.
For Stevenson Farmer, the focus is on employers. It sets out six “mental health core standards” with a view to quick implementation by all organisations.
These include: designing and implementing a mental health at work plan; developing MH awareness among employees; encouraging open conversations; providing good working conditions; and monitoring employee MH and wellbeing.