Comment: A time for small acts of kindness

clock • 3 min read

Income protection mental health support is taking on a new light during covid-19, writes Martin Shaw. 

Amid the continuing uncertainty and challenges caused by the covid-19 crisis, this year's Mental Health Awareness Week should spur on the protection industry to find solutions that support the mental health of both customers and employees.

For protection insurers, and income protection insurers in particular, the worst effects of coronavirus may still be to come. That's because the majority of people who have been seriously ill with covid-19 tend to be beyond working age, or are only unwell for a matter of weeks. 

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), over £60m was paid out in mental health claims for income protection policies last year, with the average claim amounting to nearly £16,000."

Mental health issues, which are often prevalent for longer than physical issues, may have their own, significant consequences. The Association of Financial Mutuals' (AFM) latest research into our members' income protection claims showed that in 2019 mental health claims had doubled in just two years.

And according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), over £60m was paid out in mental health claims for income protection policies last year, with the average claim amounting to nearly £16,000.

Those figures are set to increase significantly in 2020. Recent research from AFM member Benenden Health reveals that more than a third (35%) of people are struggling with their mental wellbeing during the lockdown.

Discussions with other AFM members indicate that, as employers, they are devoting significant amounts of time to looking after the mental health of their employees. Young people living alone are at particular risk of feeling isolated, which means solutions focused on ways to socialise staff and to keep a close eye on colleagues outside of the office are vital while they work from home.

Economic impact
However, with potentially millions of people facing unemployment due to the economic impact of the pandemic, it's likely that the UK will experience a mental health crisis long after the lockdown ends.

Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every 1% increase in unemployment in the US, there was a 3.3% spike in drug overdoses and a 1% increase in suicides.

To make matters worse, with the economy set for the most severe recession in at least 400 years, the causal link between the wider consequences of recession and a rise in mental health issues is becoming better understood. Research by the University of Minnesota showed that those who suffered hardship in the 2008/9 recession were also more likely to experience lasting mental health declines.

The theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. Amid all the doom and fear attached to coronavirus, acts of kindness can help offer hope and a sense of community, and can improve the mental health of the giver as well as the receiver of that act.

It's clear that the numerous challenges brought on by the pandemic are contributing to increases in mental health problems. This means greater awareness of the signs of poor mental health and the solutions to overcoming them have never been more important.

Martin Shaw is CEO of Association of Financial Mutuals