Life insurer MetLife is preparing for an increase in mental health claims in the wake of COVID-19, with the insurer acknowledging the psychological toll of financial hardship.
"There is a direct connection between financial wellbeing and mental health. Our research shows when people are feeling mentally unhealthy one of the reasons is because they are feeling financially insecure," MetLife chief retail insurance officer Meray El-Khoury said.
"We're potentially already in a recession and we may experience a severe economic downturn. So we anticipate that more people will be feeling mentally unhealthy."
El-Khoury said the insurer is preparing for an increase in mental health claims, and is also preparing for more people to be contacting their financial adviser or super fund as they seek to make these claims.
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"We're gearing up for people expressing an inability to go to work or if they're on claim, less ability to return to work because of the pressures of the economy right now," she said.
"We believe it will happen and we want to encourage people to reach out and have a conversation, particularly if they've got a financial planner. Often their planner can point them in the right direction or offer some tools if they're feeling insecure in that way."
MetLife 360Health in Australia late last year after the program had some success in Korea and China. It provides wellbeing support services, aiming to assist people with mental health issues so that they are less likely to need to make an insurance claim.
As an example of what kind of assistance people can access with 360Health, MetLife said one customer with PTSD who was finding it hard to return to work due to a recurrence of PTSD triggered by her workplace was able to get help through a case manager.
"The case manager reviewed the situation and came to understand that her ongoing anxiety toward work and her social isolation due to not working were contributing to her condition. The case manager worked with the Health Recovery Specialist in the team. It was clear that the customer would need additional support from her treating practitioner to get a more robust treatment program," MetLife said.
"There was also the need for her retrain to be able work in a different role with a different employer. The Health Recovery Specialist engaged with the provider and she was referred to our Nourish rehabilitation program which is a part of 360Health."
The program in question provides support with coping mechanisms and with a treatment program alongside career guidance and job seeking help, the customer was able to find a new role which decreased her anxiety and social isolation.
Allianz also recently released a report into workers compensation claims costs relating to mental health, finding these have increased by 80% in the last three years.
The research found that there could be a silver lining for mental health awareness to come out of COVID-19.
About 50% of managers surveyed said they feel an increased responsibility for their employees' mental health at work since the pandemic.
As many as six out of ten of the workers surveyed said their employers had already implemented mental health initiatives as a result of COVID-19. As for managers, 55% said their organisations planned to implement mental health initiatives in the next year.
Allianz found that preventing stigma of mental health issues and promoting good workplace culture were the most effective things employers could do to create a mentally healthy workplace.