Alarming increase in psychiatric and suicide claims in SA, reports Old Mutual
9 July 2020 – With July marking Mental Health Awareness month in South Africa, it serves as a timely call to drive more conversations about this important topic given the alarming increase in the number of people who claim for these often hidden illnesses.
According to Old Mutual’s 2019 personal cover claim statistics, the group has paid out 59% more in psychiatric disorders claims under Disability Income cover since 2016. Among death claims, the proportion of suicide claims has increased by almost a quarter (24%) from 2018 to 2019.
“Our overall experience with psychiatric disorders shows that most claims were for major depression. Other psychiatric disorder claims are attributed to bipolar mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive episodes, adjustment disorders, and stress,” says Dr Kerissa Naidoo, Old Mutual’s Chief Medical Officer.
“In our families and in society, we often steer away from discussing depression, along with other mental illnesses, because of the stigma that is unfortunately still attached to them. But the hard truth is that we cannot ignore the widespread impact of these mental illnesses on patients, their loved ones and their ability to function, earn an income or play an active role in their communities,” she said.
Furthermore, Old Mutual’s statistics show that claimants for psychiatric disorders were mainly adults of prime working age (83% of claimants were 30 – 50 years old); and the claims were skewed towards women (70% of claimants were female).
“We live in very stressful times. While our statistics reflect our experience in 2019, we can be certain that the current global pandemic will only compound matters.” Recently, the SA Federation for Mental Health confirmed their view that the consequences of Covid-19, including the current lockdown period, will have long-lasting effects on the mental health of the general population due to heightened stress.
This view is not unique to South Africa, as the United Nations also recently issued a warning of a looming global mental health crisis due to the stress of Covid-19.
“And this stress,” adds Dr Naidoo, “also extends to our finances.” During April, an online survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) found that after anxiety (at 55%), financial stress and pressure was the main challenge respondents experienced during lockdown (at 46%), followed by depression (at 40%).
Overcoming the stigma
“Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, people often choose to suffer in silence. Depression, as an example, is called the disease of loneliness. Rather than speaking up or seeking professional or medical help, patients often try to deal with it by themselves, to the point where it impacts their ability to function and they are unable to work,” says Dr Naidoo.
“At this challenging time it is more important than ever to talk about mental illness and its impacts. Only by opening up and sharing experiences will we be able to shift perceptions, lift the stigma and empower those in need to seek professional guidance.”
In addition, it is key to speak to a financial adviser who can help with a holistic financial plan that also includes disability cover. Being proactive will give customers peace of mind that they are covered should they become unable to work as a result of a mental illness, she adds.
“Our experience shows that anyone can be affected by mental illness. Nobody can predict the future or anticipate exactly which adverse life events could affect our wellbeing, whether emotionally or physically, but we can plan for it. With alarm bells ringing, it is important that we take charge of our own peace of mind and encourage people in need to seek help today,” she concludes.
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