The importance of looking after the nation’s mental health is now firmly recognised by health insurers, new research by ActiveQuote has found. As International Stress Awareness Day tomorrow (November 1st) encourages people to ‘speak up and speak out’ about their mental wellbeing, we reveal that mental health is now covered in more than eight out of 10 private medical insurance policies.

Mental health issues now cost the UK economy a staggering £99bn a year, according to a government report published in October, with work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounting for 45% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2015/16. The statistics, from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), also show that staff in the public services sector suffer more than in other industries.

As one of the UK’s leading health, life and income protection comparison sites and brokers, we have found that private medical insurers are increasingly taking the condition seriously, with 82% offering an option to cover mental health treatment and care. Our research showed that two out of our 11 private medical insurance (PMI) panel provide cover for stress, anxiety and depression as standard - the equivalent of 18% of insurers - while a further seven panel members offer add-on mental health protection, equalling 82% of providers in total.

PMI team leader Mark Todd says: “The stigma around stress, anxiety and depression is slowly being chipped away and people are more willing to consider that they or a member of their family may suffer stress at some point in their lives.

“It is great news that we as a society are more willing to talk about mental health and that the insurance market has adapted to this change by covering stress and anxiety as standard in their policies. But most of the policies will only cover people as an outpatient. If they are suffering severely and need to be admitted to hospital, then they will be transferred into NHS care.”

Our PMI team members also report an increase in the number of customers who now proactively ask for insurance which would cover for mental health and associated stress issues.

Mark adds: “Recent research from Bupa found that workers receiving mental health treatment have increased by 53% in the past 10 years, with 30% saying that talking about mental health is far less of a taboo than it was a decade ago.

“A report from NHS Providers, which represents almost all of England’s 240 NHS hospital, mental health and ambulance trusts, found that 80% of its members worry they won’t have enough money to provide quick, quality care to the increasing amount of people seeking mental health support.

“Private medical insurance can fill a gap for those seeking remedial help with stress and anxiety issues and so it’s good to see the industry reacting in this way, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that mental health is treated like any other illness, from insurance providers and those taking out the policies themselves. Mental health is an illness that can affect anyone at any time, just like a broken leg or gall stones, and it should be treated as such by society as a whole.”