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Five ways financial advisers can support the mental health of clients

Published date: 06/05/2022

From prevention to peace of mind to access to support when it’s needed, financial advisers are perfectly placed to ensure the mental health of clients is fully covered, writes Greg Levine and Adam Saville

We’ve seen attitudes towards mental health shift radically in recent years. As times have changed, the industry has moved with it. Products have not only evolved to provide better access to insurance through improved underwriting standards, but also to help prevent a claim from occurring in the first place.

Alongside this, the regulator has put duty of care back into the spotlight with growing focus on supporting vulnerable customers, especially given the widespread emotional and financial impact of the pandemic in the UK.

All this has meant that mental health is a subject that can no longer be ignored by financial advisers. With loneliness the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9 – 15 May), here are five ways you can support the mental health of your clients.

1. Normalise the conversation

It’s almost inevitable that financial advisers will need to talk to clients about sensitive subjects. This might be at underwriting stage or if a claim needs to be made, perhaps if a diagnosis or bereavement occurs. It’s therefore crucial that customers are treated in a way that feels human and appropriate to their needs. Being open and understanding around the subject of mental health is a soft skill that can not only help put a client at ease when sharing personal information, it can also help them feel like they have an adviser who genuinely cares.

2. Provide peace of mind

The links between financial problems and mental health problems - such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse - are widely established1. Protection and health insurance can ensure clients have one less thing to worry about, as well as providing support should the unthinkable happen. The financial impact of a serious illness or losing a loved one is hard enough already, so worrying about having enough money to pay the bills - or waiting anxiously to get access to treatment - only makes it worse. The right financial advice can be what allows someone the headspace they need to rebuild their life or prevent a physical problem from becoming a psychological or emotional one.

3. Help keep clients happy and healthy

It’s widely accepted that physical activity is good for our mental health. Whether that’s to relieve stress, release endorphins or just help us feel good about ourselves. On top of that, it can improve sleep quality and boost cognitive skills too2, helping us to plan and function better. Then there’s the social benefits of activities like Park Run. As well as these more subtle benefits to your clients’ wellbeing, physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and help with anxiety3. Despite this, encouraging people to get more physically active can be a challenge. That’s where a structured rewards programme linked to insurance can do the trick, especially if it involves incentives based on behavioural economics that are proven to improve outcomes. After all, a more engaged client tends to be a healthier one, as our member data shows4.

4. Make mindfulness accessible

There are two main barriers holding clients back from engaging in practices that preserve their mental health, such as mindfulness and meditation. Firstly, it can be difficult for them to know where to start. Secondly, they might not realise how effective it really is. According to a 2018 study by Oxford University, one month of online mindfulness practice, on average, significantly reduced anxiety, stress and depression5 - by as much as 57%. In addition, getting started can be made easier through apps like Headspace, which teach mindfulness and offer guided meditation. Especially if they are made available through plans and clients are incentivised to use them.

5. Signpost to comprehensive support

If a claim cannot be prevented and treatment is needed for a mental health condition, it’s vital that clients get the support they need, when they need it. This is where a private medical insurance plan can provide fast access to professional treatment, including talking therapies and CBT. Or protection that can cover rehabilitation support to get them back to work.

”Regardless of the provision, clients just want to know that the recommendation made by you is going to do what's needed during a difficult time. If it doesn't, it's only going to make an already bad situation even harder."

- Greg Levine, Managing Director, Sales and Distribution, Vitality

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1. Coping with Financial Stress, Help Guide, Lawrence Robinson and Melinda Smith, M.A, November 2021
2. Physical activity and risk of cognitive decline: A meta-analysis of prospective studies, F Sofi, Jan 2011
3. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report.
4. Members engaged with the Vitality Programme are at least 10% more likely to improve their health Across seven key lifestyle factors which include physical activity, sleep, healthy eating, alcohol intake, smoking, BMI and mental health, based on Vitality data
5. On average, a 58% reduction in anxiety, a 40% reduction in stress levels and 57% reduction in depression. University of Oxford, 2018