How are protection providers meeting the mental health needs of millennial clients? Mark Taylor finds out.
Almost every study into the matter finds millennials are in better physical shape than any previous generation was at the same age, but their mental health and wellbeing levels are considerably worse.
Whether it’s the price of avocados, or more likely low wages, insecure jobs, and the spiralling cost of living, anxiety among young people is on the rise.
Protection providers have banged the drum on healthy living for decades, but the millennial generation presents an entirely new challenge for insurers and advisers, and one forcing them to think carefully about how they deliver their message.
“Millennials have a ridiculous amount of pressure on them,” acknowledges Kathryn Knowles, managing director of Cura Financial Services.
“The pressure to save to try and get on the property market can see people saving every penny possible, and in some ways find themselves forgetting to actually live their life, socialise and enjoy what they have right now.”
Mental health issues transcend demographics, but experts say what sets this group apart is a unique set of toxic burdens, combined with an unwillingness to open up.
“Despite being the most connected generation in history, new independent research we’ve recently conducted shows that millennials are some of the worst culprits for not discussing major issues, such as mental health, protection and contingency plans, with family members,” says Emma Walker, chief marketing officer at LifeSearch.
Individuals often think if they keep physically fit they can ward off cancer or a stroke, but they don’t believe they can protect against mental health, or mental illness. — Paul Avis, Canada Life
The links between financial health and mental health cannot be ignored, and the negative effects are most clearly observed in this particular age-category, experts say.
“In recent years we have seen a paradigm shift in levels of education around mental illness, and the millennial generation have been at the forefront of this,” explains Gillian Connor, head of policy and partnerships at the charity Mental Health UK.
In contrast to their parents, this demographic is not thinking enough about insurance, either as individuals or exploring what help is available through employer group plans – and the reluctance to talk has a price tag.
“Millennials are less likely to have protection cover,” points out Jennifer Gilchrist, Royal London’s protection specialist.
“Most cover is taken up in conjunction with a mortgage so protection is enabled later in life. In reality, everyone needs protection cover, and at younger ages income protection will be their greatest need.”
It’s good to talk
“People in the past seemed frightened of opening up about mental health,” suggests Paul Avis, managing director of group insurance at Canada Life.
“Individuals often think if they keep physically fit they can ward off cancer or a stroke, but they don’t believe they can protect against mental health, or mental illness.”
He says the conundrum for providers was if individuals think their physical health is good they are unlikely to take out death or critical illness cover.
For young people, the mentality is strokes, cancer, and heart attacks only happen to old people.
“Research shows that when advisers take the time to explain that income protection can cover mental health, it really helps” Mr Avis notes.
“People often dislike the name ‘income protection’, but I think you can get through by explaining things like mental health issues can affect anyone at any stage, just as cancer and heart attacks, and strokes can.”
Complex insurance products, which are often geared towards physical health, such as critical illness cover, have turned millennials off, says Mental Health UK.
In response, providers say their approach is evolving as they increasingly build their own bespoke aftercare packages, while others are partnering with medical professionals who have expertise in the field.
Having digital wellbeing services available is vital to supporting the younger generation. — Jennie Doyle, Health Shield
The solution of engaging a digitally literate generation may also lie in the form of new apps, according to Dr Keith Klintworth, deputy chief executive of Vitality.
“The changing composition of the workforce, and the emergence of new technology, also present opportunities to rethink our approaches to mental health and wellbeing,” Dr Klintworth says.
Many people are now proactively looking to manage their mental wellbeing through mindfulness apps and online communities, he adds.
“Employees entering the workforce have been using digital technologies to converse with each other since they were young,” observes Jennie Doyle, product and marketing manager at Health Shield.
“Having digital wellbeing services available is vital to supporting the younger generation and increasing the number of positive digital interactions they experience.”
With more apps than ever available touting mental wellbeing support, employers would be wise to ensure standards are maintained with evidence-based offerings that are listed on the NHS website before recommending them to staff.
Technology and preventative solutions are only a partial solution, experts agree, and increasingly providers are also offering therapy products, counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), as part of cover.
The direction of travel is apps integrated into other support pathways that signpost to other services where needed, such as CBT, and physical health services, such as physio triage.
Discretionary added-value benefits, in addition to the core income protection insurance, are becoming a major incentive for firms who are looking to support the mental and physical health of policyholders to an equal degree.
“For us, it’s not just a case of paying claims when people get ill, we want to help our policyholders manage their health and wellbeing so they can lead healthier lives,” says Emma Thomson, product strategist at British Friendly.
Mark Taylor is a Freelance Journalist