"Some providers are leading the way to make their ranges accessible to people with mental health issues."
As I begin writing this piece on Blue Monday, it seems timely to reflect on how far mental health acceptance has come over the past few years.
Statistics from the World Health Organisation show that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
Time to Change’s Attitudes to Mental Illness 2014 report illustrated that attitudes towards mental health problems are continuing to change for the better.
The number of people acknowledging that someone close to them who has had a mental illness increased from 58% in 2009 to 65% in 2014. 40% of people surveyed said they would be comfortable talking to their employer about a mental health problem, although nearly half (48%) said they would feel uncomfortable, showing that there is still some way to go to improve attitudes.
Additionally, just 1 in 8 adults with a mental health problem are currently receiving treatment, according to figures from mental health charity Mind.
It therefore seems obvious that mental health, and the challenges surrounding it, should be part of our everyday conversations at home, at work, and as part of our financial planning.
Historically, people with mental health conditions have faced losing access to their own finances and were often turned down for financial products such as loans or life insurance.
As recently as September 2019, RedArc Nurses said that protection underwriters are in danger of over-stating the risk posed by mental health conditions for insurance policies. The firm says this could lead to individuals facing "unnecessary restrictions, exclusions and higher premiums, or potentially being declined protection completely".
However some providers are leading the way to make their ranges accessible to people with mental health issues.
Back in 2016, Legal & General enhanced its group income protection offering to provide more support to employees with mental health problems, stating that mental health is the cause of nearly 20% of its IP claims - nearly double that of cancer which accounts for 12%.
Additionally, Holloway Friendly has recently launched new cover for people suffering with mild depression, anxiety and other common illnesses, even if they are already on medication when applying for income protection. The Society now reviews how the applicant manages their symptoms with an effective management plan and then decides how to cover them.
Holloway says it wants income protection to be more inclusive and accessible, and for providers to address how the industry can insure people with old, or existing, mental health conditions.
But the problem isn't limited to insurance products.
A YouGov poll conducted in 2019 found that more than one in five (22%) people with a recent mental health problem have had a panic attack as a result of dealing with an essential services provider.
In response, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute launched the first ever Mental Health Accessible standards which aim to make services more accessible for people with mental health problems.
Lloyds Bank became the first firm to be tested against the new standards, which will see the charity evaluate how accessible services are for customers with mental health problems and make recommendations on how they can be made easier to use.
More recent research from Fidelity International found that almost a quarter of women reported feeling anxious when faced with the choices of how to take their pension. 23% of women felt anxious about making the wrong decision, 13% reported feeling overwhelmed and 15% said they felt confused.
Knowing where to get information on the options available is a significant hurdle for many, with one in eight (12%) women revealing they were unsure where to access advice.
It's therefore vital that as an industry we continue to improve access to advice and products for people with mental health problems.
2019 saw a surge in press releases, information and support for vulnerable borrowers, but a survey by Financial Reporter found that 84% primarily categorised vulnerable clients as being elderly.
In separate research from more 2 life, 81% of advisers said felt that less than a fifth of their clients fitted into the 'vulnerable' category. Based on the percentage of people who suffer from a mental health issue in their lifetime, we know that a large proportion of clients are therefore at risk of being under-supported during their advice journey.
As mental health becomes more accepted and more people are willing to disclose their mental health history to advisers and financial services providers, the industry will be faced with a huge task but also a huge opportunity to support these clients and make sure they have access to the right products for their needs.
If 2019 was the year vulnerable borrowers were highlighted and supported, I hope 2020 is the year mental health is firmly put on the financial services map.