The COVID-19 pandemic has made people hyper aware of their mental health. It has disrupted “normal” life, causing mass uncertainty, distress and anxiety as people attempted to navigate lockdowns, new ways of working, and the gradual societal re-opening. It is widely reported that one in four people in the world will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has been their trigger.
Historically, the connection between mind and body was sometimes overlooked, but new scientific research supports the fact that poor mental health can increase the risk of developing chronic and acute health problems, while also impacting the management and recovery from those problems.
Also, back in 2016, long before the world fell into the cumbersome grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization dubbed stress as the “health epidemic of the 21st century” because of the wide-ranging negative impacts it can cause, from things like fatigue, headaches, chest pain, and upset stomach, to more serious issues like chronic pain and substance misuse.
It is in insurers’ best interests to keep their customers and employees as mentally healthy as possible. One company tackling this issue head-on is John Hancock, an insurance, wealth and asset management solutions provider, owned by Manulife Financial.
“Mental wellbeing is something we’re very focused on as an organization,” said Lindsay Hanson (pictured), head of behavioral insurance, global strategy and delivery for Manulife and John Hancock. “It’s something we’ve taken a huge step forward with over the past few years, creating relationships with our customers that not only support their financial wellbeing, but also their physical and mental wellbeing. We believe there’s a great opportunity to connect with our customers on all these different levels.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered greater public awareness of mental health, it is by no means a new issue, and the insurance industry has long been grappling with how best to support clients in this space.
In 2018, John Hancock introduced its HealthyMind benefit to John Hancock Vitality – a program through which John Hancock life insurance customers can get access to tools and resources to live a longer, healthier life. The mental wellbeing benefit came about as a result of “active listening,” explained Hanson, and responding to the wants and needs of customers.
“When we introduced John Hancock Vitality back in 2015, it was mostly focused on physical fitness,” said Hanson. “Then we added our HealthyFood benefit, focused on the importance of good nutrition, in 2016. From there, we really listened to our customers, who were saying: ‘What about meditation? What about yoga? What about therapy? What about a good night’s sleep? These are all things that are important to me, and they’re an important part of my overall wellbeing.’ And so, that led to the introduction of our HealthyMind benefit.”
With the HealthyMind benefit, John Hancock Vitality members are rewarded for taking steps to give their mind and body the relaxation and rest they need to improve their overall health. Members earn points for things like meditation and getting a good night’s rest, which can result in life insurance premium savings, and instant savings on select promoted items. John Hancock Vitality PLUS members also get a free premium subscription to Headspace – a meditation app – as well as a complimentary Amazon Halo, which members can use to record and improve their sleep patterns.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen increased engagement from our customers around two key components of the HealthyMind benefit – meditation and sleep,” Hanson told Insurance Business. “Prior to the pandemic, we had about a 1-2% utilization of those services, so around 1-2% of our customers were using the Headspace app or letting us know that they had a good night’s sleep by completing a 30-day challenge of getting X number of hours. While we were happy with that utilization, we knew we could do better, and so, part of what we wanted to do through this pandemic was let our customers know that we are there for them whenever and however they need us.
“We extended the Headspace membership to premium, so that our members can use the app however they like, and we’ve seen an increase. Now, upwards of 12% of our customers are leveraging the benefits of the HealthyMind pillar of our John Hancock Vitality program – that’s a significant increase. And we’ve seen an even higher increase in the sleep benefit [and customers using] the education that we offer around getting a good night’s sleep, so that’s been tremendous for us.”
Anecdotally, through client feedback, Hanson said John Hancock’s triple pillar (financial, physical and mental) wellbeing approach is popular. She said customers have shown a “high appreciation” for John Hancock’s “comprehensive” approach to wellbeing, which can also be seen through increased participation in plan benefits.
“Mental wellbeing is something that we truly believe in,” Hanson stressed, “and we will continue to offer these services to our customers, and continue to listen to their voices to understand how we can do more. We will continue to offer the latest and greatest, whether that’s through research, education, science, technology devices […] but also, keeping on top of the discussion around mental wellbeing and how we can continue to support that. This is absolutely an ongoing trend for us at Manulife and John Hancock, both for our customers and our employees, and I hope that other insurance carriers take this on as well.”