RGA provides quarterly updates on global product developments, which can be made available upon request. Click here to view the Q1 2019 digital newsletter.
Insuring the mind
Stress-related illnesses are forecast to be the leading cause of global disease by 2020. Mental health issues encompass a number of conditions, from stress, anxiety, and depression to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease. These illnesses can affect all age groups – indeed, children as young as 5 years old can be diagnosed with a stress-related condition, and seniors are not immune, either.
Why is this happening? People today must contend with the uncertainty surrounding issues that impact their lives and over which they have no control, such as the effects of climate change, the economy, and political turmoil. Tragic events such as terrorist attacks around the world, most recently in New Zealand, and the frequent mass shootings in the U.S., with troubling images broadcast immediately and widely, take a toll on people’s sense of security as well.
Technology has also played a part in the world’s deteriorating mental health, but it can also be a great enabler of improved well-being if the developments in insurtech help to raise awareness of these issues – after all, it wasn’t so long ago that the subject of mental health was taboo. One example of this is Wysa, an AI bot that responds to the emotions a person expresses. Wysa uses cognitive behavioural techniques and meditation to help the user build mental resilience.
Insurers conduct annual surveys to ascertain the health challenges related to the increase in mental health illnesses. Some examples are Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Health of America survey, Cigna’s 360 WellBeing, and MetLife’s employee benefits trends surveys.
There is also a growing awareness of the importance of mental health in people’s working lives. In North America, coverage for mental health issues is part of many group plans as well as employee assistance programs. Insurers are increasing the coverage and services available. Insurers have also collaborated with technology startups to offer specialised offerings such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) programs and mindfulness apps, and they have invested in research on mental illnesses such as depression and dementia. A research team led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has been investigating the use of smartphones to treat depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Insurers also help at the grassroots level by providing free emotional help lines after a mass shooting or a major climate change event.
In Asia coverage of mental health is usually provided in a critical illness (CI) policy. Recently we have seen an increase in the number of mental illnesses covered. In Japan life and health plans offer a rider for mental illness such as dementia. Insurers there also offer policies that cover the effects of caring for someone with dementia on families. For example, one policy covers transportation and other costs that arise from searching for a patient with dementia who has wandered off.
Regulatory changes in India and the Philippines have sought to provide medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis that is available for treatment of physical illness. However, in India there is still a reluctance to do this, despite the evidence from a recent survey that shows stress levels remain very high there. The major causes of this stress are work, health, and finance.
In Australia and New Zealand, insurers realise the need to educate people on the dangers of stress and how to take care of their mental well-being. A large insurer has joined with the Life Education Trust to help improve mental health education in schools and develop new programs based on mental health.
The UK market has group health plans, employee assistance plans as well as CI policies that cover mental health. The assistance provided now covers early intervention, counselling sessions, and proactive case management and support. Programs offered include CBT, mindfulness apps, creative outlets, and online therapy. In addition, the National Health Service (NHS) has developed smartphone apps for children as young as 5 years old.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) provides corporate training, employee wellness days, and a website with educational and training resources.
In Germany depression and anxiety disorders and panic attacks are on the rise, particularly among young people. Teenagers are becoming addicted to social media, which in turn negatively affects their well-being.
With the increasing awareness of the importance of taking care of one’s mental health, insurers are partnering with startups to offer innovative solutions. SilverCloud Health’s digital platform in the UK and its Space from Money Worries programme is one example. The programme works on a number of fronts, targeting the links between finances and mental health. One Digital Health has partnered with Total Brain in the U.S. Total Brain starts with a 20-minute, clinically validated assessment using fun digital tasks to measure and benchmark 12 brain capacities encompassing emotion, feeling, cognition, and self-control. The assessment screens for risks that an individual may be suffering from one of seven common mental conditions. RedArc Nurses has partnered with Thrive Therapeutic Software’s mental health app, which allows people to monitor their daily mood as well as participate in daily activities that can be used to build resilience. Kooth is a service targeted at 11- to 18-year-olds in the UK, allowing them to anonymously discuss their mental health experiences with peers.
The crisis in mental health will continue as people struggle to cope with living in the 21st century. This is in part due to the unique pressures of modern life, and is compounded by the fact that an overwhelming number of countries have fewer than 200 psychiatrists for every 1 million people. Insurers should continue to look for ways to improve the health outcomes of their policyholders who may suffer from mental illness.
Stay tuned for future releases of our quarterly newsletter to see where the next innovations will take us.