As we continue to feel the profound health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the mental health of Australians has become an even more urgent priority.

Even before the pandemic began mental health was a rising concern in Australia, becoming an increasing burden on the government and health system.

The ABS’s National Health Survey found 2.4 million (13%) Australian adults reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress in 2017-18, an increase from 2.1 million in 2014-15. In 2017-18, 4.8 million (20.1%) people said they experienced mental and behavioural conditions – the highest of any chronic health condition, and an increase from 17.5% from 2014-15.

And according to the National Mental Health Commission, before the pandemic the annual cost of mental ill health was estimated to be $60 billion.

Now, as a result of the pandemic, diagnoses of depression, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses are expected to further increase. We’re already seeing the evidence of this trend with Roy Morgan research revealing 40.5% of Australians reported suffering from a mental health condition during the nation-wide lockdown in the June quarter of 2020, an increase of around 800,000 from the March quarter.

The role of life insurers

Our recent MetLife Value of Life Insurance report explores the important role the life insurance industry plays in improving mental health and wellbeing outcomes for Australians.

According to FSC life insurance claims data, life insurers paid $1.24 billion in 2019 to over 9,500 Australians for mental health claims. However, with mental health conditions on the rise insurers could be playing a more proactive role, beyond paying claims, though prevention and early intervention initiatives.

However, current legislation does not permit life insurers to pay for any treatments that are part of early intervention or rehabilitation – treatments that could potentially help customers return to work sooner or in some cases, prevent them from having to take time away from work due to mental health issues at all.

More can, and will, be done

In November 2020, the Government released the Productivity Commission’s final report into its mental health inquiry. It included significant reform recommendations to help improve the mental health of Australians, one of which was for the Australian Government to permit life insurers to fund mental health treatments on a discretionary basis for customers via Total and Permanent Disability cover.

MetLife supports this position and will continue to work with the Government on these reforms in an effort to further increase the value delivered by life insurance.

One of the newest initiatives MetLife has made available to customers is mental health support through MetLife 360Health Virtual Care. MetLife customers* can access expert mental health advice from the comfort of their home through Mental Health Assist, part of the 360Health Virtual Care program provided in partnership with Teladoc Health. With wait times to see specialists ballooning this service not only provides people with reassurance, support for their own doctor but also gets access to leading specialists within days instead of many months.

Accessing this mental health support is only going to become more important and we encourage others in the life insurance industry to make mental health a focus and demonstrate how much more we can do to help alleviating the rising mental health burden.

Download a copy of the MetLife Value of Life Insurance report.