Data from MLC Life Insurance shows mental health support has doubled during COVID-19

From

Sean Williamson

As Australia recognises Mental Health Week, new data from MLC Life Insurance reveals the number of customers using its Best Doctors’ Mental Health Navigator service has almost doubled since the onset of COVID-19, as more people seek mental health support during the pandemic.

In just the last four months, 21 per cent of all current cases registered with Best Doctors relate to people seeking an expert opinion for a mental health condition, an increase from 11 per cent for the whole of 2019. More than 200 MLC Life Insurance customers have now used the service to help improve a mental health condition.

That data revealed 76 per cent of customers who had severe or extremely severe symptoms of depression at their first appointment experienced a reduction to mild or normal levels after just three months of using the service. 65 per cent had their diagnosis modified and 87 per cent had a modification in their treatment.

Mental Health Navigator is a confidential, specialist mental health service that is available to all customers (including those of our business partners) and their families at no cost, and they don’t need to make an insurance claim to use it. On average, it takes nine days for a customer to receive their first assessment by a mental health specialist, such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, when using the service.

Because the service is offered virtually, it has been able to continue despite coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Further, by leveraging expanded access to telehealth treatment via Medicare, Mental Health Navigator can help connect customers, through their GP, with a specialist from the Best Doctors network for ongoing treatment via telehealth.

Sean Williamson, Chief Group Insurance Officer, MLC Life Insurance, said: “There has been a huge demand for mental health services since the beginning of the pandemic as many Australians struggle to cope with emotional and financial pressures. Worryingly, we know that 54% of people with mental illness do not access any treatment[1], and this is worsened by delayed treatment due to serious problems in detection and accurate diagnosis.

“We want to help customers better manage and treat their condition. While we’re here to protect our customers financially, we also want to support their health and wellbeing and offer them a tangible solution to help them improve their mental health. This is what Mental Health Navigator provides.”

Importantly, the service is helping to prevent employee absence from work. While 50% of all participants are off work due to their symptoms at intake, 40% of those return to full time or part time work by the three-month follow up.

Sean Williamson added: “Given the uncertainty around how the economic impacts of COVID-19 will impact on claims in the future, there is a strong likelihood that a recessionary environment will trigger an increase in claims (particularly mental health), and we have to be prepared for that. Services like Mental Health Navigator could be instrumental in helping people get back to health and also fit for work, which may ultimately reduce the extent of this increase in claims.”

Dr Benson Riddle, Chief Medical Officer at Best Doctors said “Many people feel overwhelmed about how and where to seek help for mental ill-health. The evidence shows that problems in detection and accurate diagnosis can lead to delayed or incorrect treatment, thereby worsening the condition in the long term. Finding the right support earlier through services like Mental Health Navigator is therefore paramount.”

In the 12 months to December 2019, the life insurance industry contributed significantly to people with mental health conditions, paying out more than $750 million to approximately 6,800 people experiencing mental ill-health[2].

The partnership between Best Doctors and MLC Life Insurance is currently in its 11th year. In that time, more than 5,000 customers have contacted Best Doctors to receive a second, expert opinion on a diagnosis or treatment plan for a physical or mental health condition.

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[1] Black Dog Institute
[2] KPMG/FSC life insurance data project

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