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Our Industry Needs to Open Up About Mental Health

I want a refund on this day

The (re)insurance sector needs to face the mental health problems created by the pandemic and returning to the office.

There is no hiding from the fact that this awful pandemic has cast a long shadow over people’s mental health. Now, after the extraordinary pressures created by lockdown, insurance professionals must face returning to their offices with a smile — although many will feel forced to wear one.

There is only so much that a smile can mask. Many face anxiety about catching the virus, money worries, and grief at losing or being parted from loved ones during the pandemic. A third of workers who had returned to their office said it had negatively impacted their mental health, according to a 2021 survey by McKinsey.

A third of workers who had returned to their office said it had negatively impacted their mental health.

(Re)insurance professionals will soon be back working face-to-face with other people ahead of what is predicted to be a stressful January policy renewal season. Apart from the anxieties brought on by the pandemic, there are also a string of other well-known mental triggers at this time of year: shorter days drawing in and Christmas and New Year, which can for many trigger as many unhappy memories as happy ones.

The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have also brought unprecedented financial insecurity, with more than half of UK employees reporting money worries which have affected their mental health, according to a survey by Barnett Waddingham.

With the NHS’s mental services already over-stretched the UK could be on the verge of a mental health crisis that the (re)insurance industry needs to be aware of.

Breaking Down Taboos

Many companies have stated they will be sensitive to their employees’ needs when returning to the office. But no one who’s struggling with anxiety, stress, depression or any mental health problem should face stigma, shame or discrimination.

My message to (re)insurance leaders is simple: put the mental health wellbeing of your workforce at the heart of your plans over the coming months. We need to break down the taboos that still exist in our industry around discussing and acknowledging mental health issues, and the need to take time out for ourselves.

Nobody should face ultimatums. I strongly believe that returning to the office should be voluntary, not mandatory, and that appropriate, flexible hybrid-working models should be put in place too.

No one who’s struggling with any mental health problem should face stigma, shame or discrimination.

Employers should consider offering their workforce a wellness day between now and Christmas: an additional day of annual leave which the team member is encouraged to use to do something positive for themselves.

Raising Awareness

At the same time, employers can make their staff aware of mental health support networks that are available, such as My Black Dog, which is a free peer-to-peer online chat service that supports people who are struggling with their mental health.

Coping with any mental illness is hard, and not knowing who to talk to can make it feel a hundred times worse. You might be worried about what people will think of you, you might feel ashamed or even embarrassed, or that they won't understand.

My Black Dog’s volunteers and ambassadors have all experienced their own mental health battles and understand what it is to struggle with anxiety or depression. We get what you’re going through. So please don’t suffer in silence.

My Black Dog is not a crisis point or a suicide line. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the Samaritans by calling 116 123. In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.