Posted 30 Jun 2020

How have things changed for people with mental health who want life insurance?

Author: Daniel Sharpe-Szunko

We’re often asked to find life insurance by people who suffer from mental illness. We appreciate that it’s very difficult to have to share very personal information about your mental health with someone you don’t know. It’s even worse if the person that you’re speaking to doesn’t understand you.

Mental health is one of the hottest topics in the medical world today, which also applies to life insurance. It’s got to be one of the most difficult subjects because of the numerous stigmas around mental health. Another possible problem is that there are no specific symptoms for mental health so it’s difficult to assess.

What’s different about a mental health life insurance expert?

iam|INSURED is a life insurance expert dedicated to helping people with mental health issues and other medical conditions. Over the past 20 years, our team of advisers has helped thousands of people to get the protection they need for their families.

How has life insurance changed for mental health?

We think this is very important to explain, simply because of how far things have improved over the past 20 years. There’s probably a number of key points to consider when looking at how things have moved on for this, such as:

  • People, in general, are more aware of mental health
  • A greater understanding of mental health conditions
  • Less stigma around mental health
  • Treatments have also improved

Over the past 2 decades, we’ve seen major changes in how we talk about mental health and treatment. This group of conditions covers a huge range of different types of mental health-related problems, as well as being linked to many other medical conditions.

When we talk about managing a medical condition such as MS, Diabetes, Cancer, or Heart Disease, it’s often linked to mental health. It seems logical that someone having to manage, monitor, and maintain a medical condition, may also have to cope with Stress or Anxiety.

Previously with mental health and life insurance, it was difficult to understand how that may affect you physically. It’s easier to assess someone physically than mentally simply because of the symptoms and treatments.

Do I need to speak to someone about my mental health to get life cover?

One of the most important issues that we face and our customers face is having to discuss distressing events with us. We appreciate that it’s a very sensitive subject and that it can be extremely disturbing to have to talk about your mental health.

The fact is that in most cases to get the best advice, it’s important to disclose facts about your health. If you’ve had problems with mental health in the past then you may need to talk about that with your adviser.

Some of the questions you might be asked may include:

  • Have you suffered from Stress, Anxiety, Depression, or another mental health issue?
  • Have you ever been admitted to the hospital due to mental health or been treated by a psychiatrist?
  • Have you attempted to take your own life or had suicidal thoughts?
  • Have you intentionally harmed yourself or thought about harming yourself?
  • When did you first have symptoms?
  • Are you waiting for a hospital referral or to be seen by a specialist?

These are just some examples of the types of questions that you might be asked when applying for life cover. As you can see, these questions are quite personal and could be distressing to discuss.

We’ve got a team of experts who understand this and have years of experience, so this is important for us.

What is Mental Illness?

The term mental illness covers a very wide range of disorders, with different symptoms and levels of disruption to daily life. It is a very broad umbrella to place so many medical conditions underneath, however, the common thread that ties mental disorders together is the effect on a person’s emotions, behavior, or thought.

Most disorders can be medically treated, as with a physical illness, and as it is important to look after your physical health so you don’t get sick, it is also important to take care of your mental health.

The Stigma around Mental Illness

Although thousands of people in the UK are affected by mental health problems, there is still a stigma attached to those with a mental illness. There are misconceptions that mental health problems are not “real illnesses,” or that people who have them are violent or dangerous. This can often be upsetting and unhelpful for those who have them and hinder them from getting help.

If you have a mental illness you will very likely have come across these opinions before, in the office, or even from family members. However, it is important to remember you are not alone and mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. The more we, as a society, talk about mental disorders in everyday life, the more people will feel they can ask for help when needed.

The History of Mental Illness

Throughout history, there have been three explanations used chiefly to explain mental disorders; the biological, the psychological, and the supernatural. The supernatural explanations ranged from demonic possession in Ancient China or disrespect to the gods in Ancient Greece and India.

In the Middle Ages, Persian and Arabic scholars expanded on works from Ancient Greek texts to discuss fear, anxiety, depression, obsessions, and sadness although, as in Europe, the explanations for the extreme cases were blamed on sorcery or djinn possession.

Hippocrates, living up to his name once again as the “Father of Medicine,” had already made the connection between psychological disorders and biology, however, this belief didn’t really become widespread until over a thousand years later, during the enlightenment. This didn’t improve the treatment of mentally ill patients however and places like Bedlam, a “madhouse” in England, treated the mentally ill as entertainment.

It has only been a century since these kinds of places existed and the treatment of people with mental disorders has gradually improved. Even the past ten years in the UK have seen huge improvements in the conversations around mental health but we still have a long way to go before the stigma completely fades.

Types of Mental Disorders

There are now hundreds of mental disorders that have been identified. Some of them can be grouped into large categories, like the following:

  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictions
  • Psychosis
  • Mood disorders

There are over 200 classified types of mental illness. If you or a loved one are showing symptoms of what you think is a mental illness then it is best to get help from your doctor. Just like with a physical illness, mental illnesses need to be diagnosed and treated by a medical professional.

What are the signs and symptoms of a mental illness?

There is a wide range of symptoms for mental health disorders and recognising some warning signs might help you get specialised help before the disorder becomes more entrenched. Some of the signs are:

  • Irrational thinking
  • Social withdrawal and apathy
  • Change in sleep or appetite
  • Heightened fear or suspicion
  • Mood changes

Most mental health disorders will show themselves by the age of 24. One of these signs doesn’t mean a definite mental illness but two or more indicate a need to be seen by a mental health specialist. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should seek help immediately.

The Importance of Looking After your Mental Health

We look after our physical health by eating well and exercising to decrease the chances of becoming physically ill and the same applies to mental health and mental illness. Rather than only looking after our mental wellbeing when we are struggling, it is important to look after your mental health on a daily basis.

You can make a huge difference to your mental health by getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Also important is connecting to friends and family, staying active, and taking time to enjoy your surroundings. Stress can be particularly harmful to mental health so it is important to take time out and appreciate small moments in your daily life.

What are the causes of Mental Illness?

Although we have moved past the days where mental illness was thought to be the result of demonic possession, there is still controversy over the actual cause of it.

Externally, we know there are a number of different factors that could possibly cause a mental disorder. The external causes can range from physical injury, abuse, or homelessness, and what triggers an illness in one person may not do so for another.

There is research to suggest mental disorders can run in families and if a grandparent, for example, has schizophrenia then you are more likely to develop it yourself. There has also been research that mental health disorders are linked to variations in a person’s brain chemistry.

It may be because we are not clear on the exact causes of mental illness that it is not treated, in some circles, as seriously a physical illness. However, this point of view is incorrect and can be damaging to those seeking help.

Is it possible to recover from a Mental Illness?

Many people recover from serious mental health disorders with either psychiatric medication or therapy.

Medication is the most common type of treatment used for mental disorders and although they cannot cure the illness, they can ease the symptoms of it.

Recovery is different for everyone and for some people it means learning to live with the illness and around the flare-ups that may occur.

Mental Illness statistics (UK)

According to the statistics collected by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England:*

  • 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues each year
  • At any given time, 1 in 6 working-age adults have symptoms associated with mental ill-health
  • 70-75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all
  • 75% of mental illness (excluding dementia) starts before age 18
  • The total cost of mental ill-health in England is estimated at £105 billion per year

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely (26%) to experience a common mental health issue as males of the same age (9%)

Psychosis is more common among BAME groups

In the UK, 20.6% of people have had suicidal thoughts at some time, 6.7% have attempted suicide and 7.3% have engaged in self-harm

*References :

Mental Health Taskforce NE. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. 2016

Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014

Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence

Will life insurance exclude suicide?

Often people don’t associate life insurance with suicide as it’s often not considered to be linked. The reality is that most life insurance policies will pay out for suicide after 12 months usually.

If you apply for life insurance with a mainstream insurance provider in the UK then this should be the case. Insurers very rarely exclude anything pre-existing with life insurance unless it’s a specialist cover.

Can I get life insurance with a mental health condition?

Mental health covers a vast range of different conditions that can be treated in a variety of ways. One in four adults in the UK will experience mental illness, so it’s natural to want to know how that will impact cover.

Some of the main mental health conditions include:

  • Anxiety
  • BiPolar
  • Bulimia
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress

All of these conditions have a potentially different impact on you physically but also will be treated differently. Insurance companies are getting better at understanding mental health, but it’s still difficult to quantify.

It’s becoming increasingly accepted that mental health conditions are part of life these days. Most applications we see for life insurance with a mental health disclosure such as depression, stress, or anxiety are simple to process.

We’re also now seeing some incredible work from mental health charities in conjunction with insurers which is helping. Charities such as Mind are now becoming more involved in this debate to help build awareness and dispel stigma.

Can I get critical illness cover with a mental health condition?

A critical illness cover policy is designed specifically to pay out on diagnosis of a serious illness. Because mental health conditions don’t cause critical illness generally, you should be able to get this type of policy.

It’s important to make sure that you’re properly protected in all events so might be worth considering some critical illness cover. Affordability is often the main stumbling block with this type of cover, however, some cover is better than none.

Does mental health life cover cost more?

The premiums you’ll pay for life insurance will be based on the amount of cover, your age, and your lifestyle or health. There are certain events that insurers would consider as slightly higher risk.

Some of the key areas that would be considered as high risk for someone with a history of mental health applying for life insurance are:

  • Have you ever attempted suicide or have you had thoughts about it?
  • Have you ever harmed yourself or thought about harming yourself?
  • Were you hospitalised because of mental health?
  • Are you currently taking medication(s)
  • Has your medication changed recently

There are also some insurers whose underwriting is fairer for mental health. It’s important that you identify where to get the best cover and pay the fairest price.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get life insurance if I suffer from Anxiety?

Most of the applications for life insurance with a history of anxiety are accepted with no medical evidence required. You can also get life cover with anxiety from almost all of the UK’s top insurance providers.

You will be asked questions about your anxiety such as when were you diagnosed and what medication(s) you take. Anxiety is considered to be a reasonably mild mental health condition as it can be treated and controlled.

Which insurance companies are the best for mental health conditions?

Some insurance companies in the UK are better than others for mental health underwriting. This means that you can get a fair price from certain insurance providers if you do your research. You can also speak to an expert who will know which insurer is best for you.

It can be difficult to talk about your mental health history so it might be easier to speak to someone with experience. Don’t be put off if you don’t get the right answer the first time and just make sure that your adviser understands your situation.

Will I be covered for mental health if I take out life insurance?

If you’ve got a history of mental health and you take out a new life insurance policy, then you should be covered. Always check with your adviser or your insurer to be certain but almost all life insurance policies don’t exclude pre-existing conditions.

Some life insurance policies will have a standard exclusion which is ‘suicide in the first 12 months’. This is not just for you or because of your mental health history so don’t think it’s something specifically for you.

Can I get life insurance if I’ve attempted suicide?

This is a very difficult subject, clearly, it’s something that is very sensitive and difficult to talk about. Suicidal attempts will have an impact on which insurance providers will offer you cover and your premiums.

If you’ve had multiple suicide attempts then it may become slightly more complicated to get cover. Another point to consider is if your suicide attempts were several years ago during a particularly difficult period.

Some people have an event in their lives which can cause extreme levels of stress or anxiety which can lead to attempted suicide. You may then have been treated successfully and hopefully recovered from this period which is usually acceptable for most insurers.

Is mental health considered a pre-existing condition?

Every life insurance application in the UK will ask about a history of mental health. Almost all insurance providers will consider mental health to be a pre-existing medical condition when applying for life cover.

Clearly there’s a wide range of different levels of mental health which can be incredibly mild to extremely severe. The levels of underwriting and information required will depend on your treatment, condition, control, and medication.

What if I don’t tell someone about my mental health history on my life insurance application?

It’s important to answer all questions honestly and truthfully when you apply for life cover. If you withhold information about your medical history then you may have to pay more for cover or your cover could even be refused.

If you lie on your application and then need to make a claim, your benefit may be reduced or your claim could even be refused. Your family could therefore have a reduced payout in the event of your death or could even have no payout at all.

It’s also important to make sure that you don’t disclose information that is not required or relevant. Only answer the questions that are asked and do not over disclose information.

Can I get critical illness cover or income protection with a history of mental health?

Most applications for critical illness cover and income protection are accepted, especially where symptoms are mild or historic. There may be some exclusions applied to the policy which would include future claims related to mental health.

If there are exclusions applied to your cover then you should make sure that you’re comfortable with that. Also, you should be aware that exclusions can vary from one insurer to another.

Does seeing a psychiatrist affect my life insurance application?

Some of the questions that you’ll be asked when you apply for life cover will include, have you had psychiatric treatment. Questions will vary from one insurer to another but this is a common question.

If you’ve seen a psychiatrist in the past then you may need to provide more information about it. You may also be required to provide a medical report or evidence from your GP to support your application.

Top 10 mental health charities in the UK

Here’s a list of mental health charities in the UK

Mind Charity
Helpline: 0300 1233393
Website: https://www.mind.org.uk/
Address: 15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London, E15 4BQ

Samaritans
Helpline: 116 123
Website: https://www.samaritans.org/

Mental Health Foundation
Website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
Telephone: 0207 803 1100
Address: Colechurch House, 1 London Bridge Walk, London, SE1 2SX

Nightline Association
Website: https://www.nightline.ac.uk/
Address: C/O Manchester University Students Union, Steve Biko Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PR

Beat Eating Disorders
Website: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Address: Unit 1 Chalk Hill House, 19 Rosary Road, Norwich, NR1 1SZ

Young Minds
Website: https://youngminds.org.uk/
Helpline: 0808 802 5544

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Website: https://www.thecalmzone.net/
Helpline: 0800 585858

Shout
Website: https://www.giveusashout.org/
Helpline: 85258

The Mix
Website: https://www.themix.org.uk/
Helpline: 0808 808 4994
Address: PO Box 7777, London, W1A 5PD

OCD Action
Website: https://www.ocdaction.org.uk/
Helpline: 0845 390 6232
Address: Suite 506-507 Davina House, Goswell Road, London EC1V 7ET

If you need more help and want to speak to one of our experts to see what your options are then call 0800 009 6559

Daniel Sharpe-Szunko