Recent years have seen growing recognition and diminishing stigma relating to mental ill health, be that conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression, or more complex long-standing conditions such as phobias and disorders.
The escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic has added another major dimension to the incidence and complexity of mental health conditions in the UK. Stress and anxiety levels have escalated rapidly as a reaction to the distressing circumstances, significant loss of life and the severe “lockdown” restrictions. Isolation, loneliness and all of the practical aspects such as home schooling, working from home as well as difficult domestic arrangements and serious physical health conditions can all have a major impact on many people.
Even now, as “lockdown” begins to ease, this brings new and unexpected anxieties to people as they try to move towards a more normal life, however cautiously.
Help with mental health issues
Not only has the growing need for support for mental health issues been acknowledged, so too has the availability of NHS mental health services with waiting lists of 3 months being very much the norm. So, it’s not surprising that the recent situation has exacerbated the problem; a combination of the additional pressures on the NHS, the public’s apparent reluctance to contact health professionals and the massively increased anxieties and stressors.
Now more than ever, the value of support services is being acknowledged and those insurance providers offering them are really coming to the fore.
Good support for mental ill health is far more than a course of counselling, which can of course be necessary, but there are much wider needs that need to be addressed for an effective and sustained recovery. Tailored support is necessary, whether dealing with a diagnosed mental health condition, the mental impact of a physical health condition or other environmental factors such as the current pandemic.
Good quality support, delivered though a long-term relationship with a trusted experienced mental health professional, with a flexible approach catering for changes as they occur and addressing many factors holistically such as:
- The impact of a diagnosis and all its implications
- The mental aspects of physical conditions and how they affect one another.
- Worries about family members and relationships affected by an individual’s illness
Support can include (this isn’t exhaustive)
- Provision of a structured therapy which is assessed as being most beneficial for the individual with a well-matched therapist. This may not necessarily be counselling; other talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may be more appropriate and in some cases some form of complementary therapy can be more beneficial.
- Navigation and signposting into the right services within the NHS, other health services and charities
- Providing clear relevant information such as written documentation and weblinks to help people further understand an illness and provide sources of additional help
Availability of Support
Many insurers make mental health support services available as a value-add alongside group and individual insurances such as critical illness, income protection and even life insurance policies. These services are also available through other organisations such as trade unions, affinity groups and employers.
The method of access to the service can vary between services and the agreement with the hosting insurance company or organisation. This includes a pro-active referral at point of claim as well as on a self-refer basis at any other time.
It’s important that organisations think about the best way to offer this service to get the best value. We find that most people find it very difficult to ask for help when they’re struggling with their mental health. Similarly, if help is not made available until point of claim, people may have been dealing with issues for some time and depending on the type of policy a claim may not be applicable.
What really makes the difference is how the support is communicated, and helping people to access help in a way that suits them. This might be as simple as encouraging people to self-refer via email – which many find easier to do than picking up the phone. Technology can also help, enabling the individual to initiate the service in a less daunting way. The earlier people get help, the less time they need support. When support is delayed, it can mean more intense support is needed. So enabling timely help is better for the insurer and the individual.
It’s not surprising, that increasing numbers of insurers are looking to add this sort of benefit, either alongside technology or not, recognising that a financial payout is only one aspect of caring for their customers and; if accessed early, support for mental health (as well as other aspects of health) can even avoid the financial payout.
A good quality support service can switch the emphasis from price to overall value, build brand differentiation and loyalty, something that many insurers are looking to do. Many customers may struggle to recall the name of their insurer, but when they’ve had such valued support organised and/or funded by them, name recall and engagement is much enhanced.
By Christine Husbands, managing director at RedArc