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Mental health and wellbeing has taken on a new dimension – how are we responding?

21/05/2020
Debbie Kennedy – Protection Director

During this time of heightened uncertainty and anxiety driven by the COVID pandemic, it’s never been more important to look after our mental health. As an industry, there's still work to do in addressing the obstacles that people feel when talking about mental health issues and, here, I offer an update about how we are responding and supporting customers in the current crisis.

Nine weeks ago, I ‘virtually’ presented to the Cover Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit - how our world has changed since. Vulnerability has taken on a new dimension as people contend with social distancing, lack of contact with loved ones and suffer severe financial challenges.

Before COVID, up to one in six people experienced a mental health problem such as anxiety and depression every week. With a strong correlation between financial health and mental health, I suspect this is far greater now. Indeed, reports from the Global Web Index [1] indicate that over half of UK adults say their mental health has worsened over lockdown.

In my presentation – which you can watch again, here – I considered a number of challenges and developments. Let’s revisit three in particular - underwriting, value added services and support for vulnerable customers and what we might learn from COVID.

Underwriting, mental health and avoiding default decisions

Providers are reviewing ‘traditional underwriting approaches’ to assessing mental health. At LV=, we’re working with mental health experts, advisers and customers to ensure our questions make it easy for customers to disclose their experience of mental health and importantly how they cope with their condition. For IP applicants we also include questions that focus on a customer’s attitude to work and resilience. As a result, we’re making better underwriting judgements, avoiding the typical industry ‘exclusion’ default and further extending access to protection. 

The importance of individual circumstances is strikingly more important now. As part of our wider COVID response, we’re talking directly with more customers. This allows us to take a more individual, better informed approach to how we assess an application and offer support. I hope we learn from this as we move in to in the ‘new norm’.

Mental health issues and access to services

COVID has driven changes in how we access medical and emotional advice. Mind found that one in four people had trouble contacting a GP or community mental health team as face-to-face appointments stopped [2].

As an industry we’ve witnessed a growth in value added services. Throughout this crisis, we and other providers have been working with advisers to remind them and their clients of the valuable services included with their protection and remote GP services have particular relevance currently. As part of LV= Doctor Services we offer medical advice from a UK GP available remotely through the Square Health app or over the phone and we’ve extended the service to provide 24-hour support. During March and April 2020, we’ve seen a 16% rise in members under 40 using our remote GP services. Not only is COVID changing our behaviours and access, it might reinforce the everyday value of protection too.

Supporting the most vulnerable

The other area we were actively reviewing was support for vulnerable customers. At the Summit, I revealed our plans to help them access support and financial reprieve whilst keeping their protection in place. Our ‘Payment Break’ has taken on a new meaning and I’m proud that we’ve extended this concept to respond to new challenges. We’re talking with our customers directly to understand their circumstances, signpost them to support services and discuss and apply the options that works best for them. So far, we’ve offered over 70 payment breaks to those customers really struggling, providing financial support - with the reassurance their cover remains fully in place.

An opportunity to review, adapt and adopt

We’ve made great strides as an industry, but there’s still more we can do to support our customer’s mental health and provide our most vulnerable customers with increased access to insurance; what better time than now? By giving easier and greater access to financial protection and these life-changing services, we can equip those living with mental health pressures with the right tools for recovery now and in the future.

The content on our website is produced in collaboration with our advisory board. It is made up of a group of experts in insurance products, claims and compliance.

More on our advisory board

[1]Global Web index - Coronavirus Research | April 2020 - Series 8: Health, Personal concerns

[2]Mental health charity Mind finds that nearly a quarter of people have not been able to access mental health services in the last two weeks