The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown restrictions have had a corrosive effect on mental health around the world; insurers can be part of the solution.
Isolation, physical inactivity, and terrible uncertainty caused by job losses and furloughs have placed unique pressures on individuals and families. People have reason to be lonely, bored, fearful and anxious, and ultimately these feelings can contribute to rising risk of mental health disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.
Now more than ever, those on the insurance frontline, from advisors to claims analysts, have a unique opportunity to save lives by helping to identify those who are struggling to cope with the coronavirus and could harm themselves. But success demands concerted effort and comprehensive education across the industry.
The consequences of declining mental health can be deadly. For example, drinking alcohol as a coping method reportedly rose among Britons during lockdown,1 and alcohol abuse is known to exacerbate negative thoughts in those who already suffer from mental illness and contribute to worsening mental health. The British Medical Association1 recently warned that stresses caused by COVID-19 could have a considerable detrimental effect. Insurers already know that unemployment and financial hardship increase suicide rates, and previous pandemics such as the 1918-19 flu pandemic and the 2003 SARS pandemic caused rates to rise both in the U.K. and around the world.
RGA U.K. is among the members of ASPiiN, or Action for Suicide Prevention in Insurance, a voluntary industry organization that seeks to identify opportunities to help prevent suicide and to act as a knowledge-sharing hub for the industry. Insurers must be prepared to recognize the signs of poor mental health and intervene when possible, and ASPiiN has taken three key steps to help make that happen:
ASPiiN produced a guidance document of best practice principles for insurers to discuss suicide in a safe and sensitive way on their websites, as well as via call centers or financial advisors. A customer with a history of suicide attempts may seek to learn about whether they can access insurance, or a family claiming a life insurance policy may want to understand more about the cover. They deserve as much guidance and support as possible, and in some instances, directing customers to suicide support charities could save a life.
The guidance document further explains the importance of providing information and dispels some of the myths about suicide and insurance, including those related to applicants who may have a history of self-harm. It outlines the type of language that is appropriate and responsible to use and how to avoid upsetting language or images that could negatively impact someone in a vulnerable state. For example, ASPiiN forwarded the document to an insurer that had a page on its website about suicide which, despite being factually correct, in essence assured the visitor that, “It’s OK, insurance does pay out for suicide.” After reviewing the ASPiiN guidance document, the insurer updated the webpage so that the first thing visitors see are resources for suicide prevention help and support – a simple change that allows communication of policy detail without appearing to condone a suicidal action.
To complement the guidance document, ASPiiN produced a Directory of Suicide Prevention Training Resources in the U.K., offering a variety of frontline staff learning modules that individuals or large companies can incorporate into training. For those involved in selling insurance products or taking calls from customers who already have life insurance, being able to recognize someone who may be mentally unwell is vital. The majority of resources listed in the directory are free and readily available online. Having the skills to confidently and professionally deal with an inquiry from a customer asking for advice on suicide and insurance cover could help save a life.
Finally, ASPiiN created a survey which will be launched to advisors to gain a better understanding of customer engagements, in terms of both the sort of inquiries they may have received and any existing training to address mental health issues. The information gathered from this survey will help expand and improve the Directory of Suicide Prevention Training to produce a best practice guide for the benefit of the wider advisor community.
Deaths from suicide can be prevented, and in these difficult times, it’s crucial that the insurance community uses its rich resources and expertise to play a part in helping those who may be struggling.