Mental health during COVID-19
15 Jul 2020
Mental health during a pandemic
The pandemic is causing both health and economic difficulties across society. Prior to the pandemic, in 2016, the Mental Health Foundation found that 17.5% of working-age adults had symptoms of common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).1 It is unsurprising that mental health problems have become one of the top causes of claims under group and individual income protection policies.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that in late March, almost half of British people reported a high level of anxiety, this has sharply increased from the end of 2019. People in the UK have also reported lower ratings of life satisfaction and happiness.2 Information available on historical epidemics such as SARS suggests an increasing number of intense emotional reactions such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness and anger, particularly for people in quarantine areas and people who know other patients or healthcare workers.3 In this article, we will discuss the impact on mental health from COVID-19 for different groups in the population, and how insurers and employers can help. You may also be interested to see an article that Club Vita has produced which discusses the relationship between mental health and physical health, and its impact on life expectancy, longevity and pension plans.
Employment and financial concerns during COVID-19
COVID-19 has put a huge strain on the population’s mental health and wellbeing. The uncertain economic environment also makes people worry more and find it harder to cope with their concerns. The ONS has suggested that, of all impacts from COVID-19, people are most concerned about wellbeing, work and household finance. A recent survey from the Mental Health Foundation unveiled that a third of full-time workers are concerned about losing their jobs and one third of adults are worrying about debts and bill payments. Middle-age people seem to be the most worried age group and not surprisingly, lower socioeconomic group (35.11%) people are more likely to have financial concerns than people in higher socioeconomic groups (30.81%).
Employment is one of the most strongly evidenced risk factors of mental health, quality of employment can influence quality of life, social status and self-esteem. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find that twice as many unemployed people (25.85%) are not coping well with the stress of the pandemic compared to people in employment (12.25%).
Different groups of the workforce may also have been impacted disproportionally by COVID-19. For example, over half of self-employed people reported a household income reduction, compared to 22% of employed people. People with small businesses, those working in gig economies, part-time workers and furloughed staff may also have increasing concerns about their job security and finances.
Employers and insurers
Employers can do a lot to support employees' wellbeing and encourage positive mental health during the pandemic. For example, employers can arrange mental health training for managers and staff; appoint mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to and promote existing mental health support programmes. Support and communication are also important for furloughed staff, such as regular catch-ups to help them feel connected.
Protection insurers with virtual GP and helpline support can play a role in helping people who need mental health support. The mental health charity Mind found that more than a quarter of people who tried to seek mental health support in late April failed to get any help at all.4 People found difficulties in getting in contact with their GP and community mental health team; video conference technology could pose another barrier and their appointments were cancelled. This has resulted in an unprecedented demand on mental health support from charities and community groups.
In addition, more can be done in terms of treating customers fairly, such as having trained staff responding with empathy and sensitivity when facing customers with mental health issues.
It is also concerning to know that some people are not seeking help as they think their problem is not important compared to the wider pandemic, or feel it is unsafe to attend a face to face appointment. However, if mental health support is not given early enough, it may turn into a crisis point and an increase in suicide rate. Therefore, it is important to identify, reach out, and offer mental health support for both employees and insurers.