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Jun 2024

Ensuring mental health wellbeing in reinsurance

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Source: Middle East Insurance Review | Jun 2024

Mental health wellbeing in the workplace has become more important than ever, as remote offices have increased social isolation and combined workplace and home stress into a tangled knot that many employees cannot unravel without professional help. While insurers have done much work to help the markets they serve through mental health products and services, how have they fared internally? We spoke to Marsh Mercer BenefitsDr Kanupriya Jain to find out more.
By Ahmad Zaki
COVID-19 began a period called a ‘polycrisis’ – where several different crises interacted in such a way to have a greater overall impact that exceeded the sum of each part. These crises included war, environmental disasters, ongoing climate change, political instability and rising inflation levels alongside the major health concerns that the virus brought.
While all of this went on, the workplace began to change. Companies transitioned to remote offices and employees adjusted to the home and the workplace being the same place. These external and internal factors affect employees’ health and wellbeing, especially in vulnerable groups such as low-paid employees and those who are unwell, said Marsh Mercer Benefits (MMB), in its 2023 Health on Demand report.
The Aon Telus Health Asia Mental Health index released in November 2023 also showed that 82% of workers in Asia have a high (35%) to moderate (47%) mental health risk. Major findings on workplace productivity showed that 45% of respondents across the region report that their mental health is negatively impacting their work while stress, anxiety and burnout are on the rise.
The survey found that 51% of employees reported feeling more sensitive to stress this year compared to last year and 45% of them believe their colleagues are showing more signs of stress this year. Further, 33% of workers are currently finding it difficult to concentrate on their work.
Meanwhile, the latest data from the National Population Health Survey by Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed a concerning rise in poor mental health prevalence, increasing from 13.4% in 2020 to 17.0% in 2022.
Asian workers managing growing work, home and social pressures, stigma surrounding mental health and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to the deterioration of mental health. Public and self-stigma is an overwhelming problem for workplaces and society across Asia.
However, there’s a positive shift as more people in Singapore are willing to seek help from health professionals in 2022 (56.6%) compared to 2019 (47.8%), said the MOH survey.
According to MMB’s report, employees are twice as likely to talk about mental health concerns with their managers if they feel that their employer cares.
“Leaders need to set a culture of trust, empathy and care. Managers should create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable having open and unbiased conversations. They are also encouraged to provide a suitable action plan with periodic check-ins,” said MMB Regional Consulting, ASEAN and HK workforce health and sustainability leader Kanupriya Jain.
She also suggested that managers should be proactive and stay informed about wellbeing resources provided by the company, like employee assistance programmes (EAP), mindfulness apps, workshops, on-site medical support and telehealth.
They should also attend training such as the mental health first-aider programme to understand the complexities and discretion required to support and detect mental health issues appropriately.
“However, managers should refrain from giving medical advice to employees. Instead, they should direct them to the right medical specialists,” she said.
Employee response
Many insurers are also trying to find the right solutions to address mental wellbeing, and thus, not all introduced solutions are received with the same enthusiasm.
“Responses of employees vary depending on their state of wellbeing, income levels, and caregiving responsibilities,” said Dr Jain.
“Mental health strategies should therefore cater to employees’ unique needs, prioritising care for those who are vulnerable. Take EAP as an example, despite its benefits, utilisations across Asia remain low. This could be due to stigma around seeking help, trust deficit, lack of awareness, or poor experience. Companies should then proactively communicate the benefits and confidentiality of EAP. The GTT 2024 report revealed that 36% of employees in Asia feel that programs that encourage people to talk about difficult topics like mental health are important.”
Currently, (re)insurers are also partnering with clients to provide education, resources and tools to build resilience, provide access to the right support systems and enable self-care. MMB’s report found that virtual mental health counselling is provided by nearly half of employers while one-third of them offer training to recognise and address mental health challenges.
Diversity and inclusion
One of the suggested ways to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace is to ensure that the workplace is a ‘safe space’ – this necessarily brings up considerations around diversity, equity and inclusion.
In fact, according to the MMB report, 64% of employees in Asia indicated diversity, equity, and inclusion as an important issue they want their employers to support.
“By implementing comprehensive workplace policies and benefits that support individuals from diverse backgrounds, family structures, abilities, ages, genders, income levels and more, organisations can enhance overall workplace mental health,” said Dr Jain. “When employees feel valued, accepted and supported in a safe environment that encourages open communication, it can significantly contribute to their overall wellbeing and mental health.”
Improvement to be made
Of course, the systems currently in place are not perfect. Dr Jain raised three aspects that have room for improvement.
Insurance coverage: Coverage for psychological and/or psychiatric counselling sessions should be enhanced. According to the MMB Health Trends 2024 report, only 54% of the insurers in Asia cover counselling sessions, with 67% of those covering 10 or fewer sessions, which is insufficient. Companies can also consider coverage of alternative mental health therapies such as meditation, light therapy, and animal therapy.
Wellness delivery: Mental wellbeing delivery needs to go beyond traditional reactive solutions to introducing wellness programs that maintain good mental health, which is complementary to resilience building and crisis management solutions. Insurers can also leverage AI to offer AI-powered virtual solutions to provide mental health support.
Resources: From the MMB Health on Demand report, 46% of employees in Asia say they find targeted services for youth mental health, which include socialising and learning issues, helpful. But only 25% of employers provide this. Thus, developing partnerships with providers and toolkits to address this can add to the employer’s value proposition. M 
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