There are more than 17 million South African’s who suffer from a mental health illness that can affect a person's behaviour, mood, and thinking.
But what does this mean for people looking to protect their financial future along with being able to provide for their loved ones? Can you get life cover if you have been diagnosed with a mental health illness?
As part of Mental Health Awareness month, we break down how the process of getting insurance impacts you and whether you will be able to find cover in South Africa if you have been diagnosed with a mental health illness.
What are mental health illnesses
Mental disorders, also known as mental illnesses, is a condition that can have an impact on your mood, thinking and how you behave. The most common ones being:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
These can differ from mild symptoms that do not have a major impact on a person's daily life, to severe. Seeking medical and professional help can be beneficial for anyone who has a mental health illness.
Can you get life cover if you have a mental health illness?
Yes, you can take out life insurance with any insurer in South Africa. However, each insurance company decides on its own underwriting risk profile which takes into account a range of factors such as lifestyle, medical information, etc. Due to the diverse nature of mental health illnesses and how one might be affected - from mild to severe - the process can be a complex one. Therefore, insurers assess each person on an individual basis to see if they will be able to offer cover.
“Underwriting is not as straight forward as most people think i.e. we cover this, we don’t cover that. Underwriting is a process of assessing the risk, and it’s a combination of variables. One person might be declined but another person may be covered for an illness. It all depends on the severity and/or type of mental illness, plus other combination of factors,” points out Castro Mtsutsa, Head of Underwriting and Claims for MiWayLife.
What is underwriting and does it affect you?
The underwriting process is used by all insurers to ensure that you are treated fairly and given a policy that will be suitable to your needs. You can think of an underwriter as your personalised tailor who makes sure that your life insurance policy fits you like a glove. An underwriter will assess you holistically to understand the risk you pose in terms of making a claim and how much cover you can be eligible for without placing undue risk on other policyholders or the insurer.
The risk factors are important because these determine your premiums. Kate Madiba, a Medical Underwriter for MiWayLife, adds “It doesn’t matter how long you have been diagnosed. How you answer can affect your policy. It can be declined, a loading can be added or it could go through without a loading.”
Underwriters will look at things such as:
Even if you are declined by one insurer, you can always re-apply to make sure that you and your loved ones are covered. Knowing what questions to ask a life insurer can also smoothen out the process by helping you understand what you are getting yourself into. While insurers make sure that the process is fair to you, it is crucial to remember to follow the medical advice that has been given to you by an accredited medical professional.
As the medical research evolves over time, so too does the Insurance sector’s understanding of mental health and how best to accommodate policyholders with mental health illnesses. It is therefore important to have knowledge of your medical history and to inform the insurer. It will assist in developing insurance models, benefits and enhance products that are suitable to you and those who might benefit in the future.