The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted normality as we know it, causing mass uncertainty, distress and anxiety. On top of questions pertaining to the coronavirus itself, people around the world are still contending with alien issues like social isolation, employment uncertainty, heightened economic strife triggered by the pandemic, remote working and schooling, and navigating the seemingly ever-changing COVID regulations and health and safety guidelines.
And now, as many countries around the world have started to re-open, people face new stressors related to reintegrating into society and getting back to everyday activities, like commuting on public transport, working from an office, working out at the gym, and socialising in public spaces like bars and restaurants. Basically, what once felt “normal” now feels … a bit strange. And for some, that can equate to heightened stress on their mental health.
Back in 2016, long before the world fell into the cumbersome grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation – the United Nations agency behind World Mental Health Day – dubbed stress as the “health epidemic of the 21st century” because of the wide-ranging negative impacts it can cause, from things like fatigue, headaches, chest pain, and upset stomach, to more serious issues like chronic pain and substance misuse.
Insurers have a duty to tackle issues relating to mental health on multiple fronts. They have to keep their customers as mentally healthy as possible – especially those that provide healthcare, workers’ compensation, and life insurance products – and they have to support the mental health of their employees. This is no easy feat, as many people still have a tendency to bottle up their mental health problems, rather than share them openly and get help.
So, the first thing that insurers must do is remove any historic stigma around mental health and make it something that employees and customers alike are willing to talk about openly. From what I’ve seen, the industry is doing a great job at this. Mental health is always high on the agenda at Dive In, the global festival for diversity and inclusion in insurance, and more and more insurers and reinsurers worldwide are conducting research and publishing reports on the importance of mental health. I’ve also heard of companies creating employee resource groups, support systems, and forums where people can connect and work through any issues together.
Aside from the fact that supporting mental health is, frankly, the right and humane thing to do, insurers that engage in this will also gain positives from a business perspective. Modern research and science support the fact that poor mental health increases the risk of developing chronic and acute health problems, and it can severely impact the management and recovery from health issues.
IB Talk: Mental Health Awareness
This is a big concern for insurers and employers because mental health is inextricably linked to the outcome of bodily injury claims, especially if an injured worker is experiencing chronic pain. If injured workers do not receive adequate support for both their physical and mental recovery, then their insurance claims could inflate dramatically in severity – all at a time when the insurance industry at large is dealing with poor loss ratios across many commercial, CAT-exposed, and casualty lines of business. By providing clients with holistic care and pain management that encompasses mental health support, insurers can mitigate some of that financial risk and protect their balance sheets.
As for maintaining a mentally healthy workforce, I would argue that the business case is simple. Happy and healthy employees are typically more engaged and more able to perform to their best of their ability than those who are struggling with their mental health. Mentally healthy employees are also more likely to stay with their company longer-term and recommend their company to others – an important factor, given the ongoing talent shortage in the insurance industry. Although it may be hard to quantify, maintaining a mentally healthy workforce will inevitably have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line over time. It’s a win-win scenario.