The HEALTH : May 2019 | Page 10

The Health | MAy, 2019 10 issue: mental health ISSUE: MENTAL HEALTH Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz, Founder of MHF sees no reason why mental illnesses are treated differently by insurance companies than any other types of diseases. Dr Sangeeta Kaur, Organising Chairman of MHEC 2019 says that the insurance providers she spoke to stated that the demand for mental health coverage is lacking in Malaysia. Anita Abu Bakar, President of MIASA says that the demand is definitely present, but people are not coming forward because of stigma. The support we need in Insurance coverage are seldom thought about when it comes to mental health issues. It should, because we are not supported by insurance for the time being I t is to no surprise that the mental wellbeing of many Malaysians are becoming poorer in recent times. Statistics will show you that stress, anxiety disorder, and depression tops the mental health issues in the country. And although the awareness for mental health and wellbeing are seen to somewhat improve over the decade, stigmas surrounding the varied mental health issues we face are ever-present in society. Stigma, lack of awareness, and unhealthy work- place/education culture are seen as main factors contributing to mental health issues among Malay- sians. Yet there is one factor in the equation we seldom dwell upon. The lack of support from insurance providers. Discrimination or disqualification? We are sure that as an individual working in a company or handling a business of your own, you have some form of health insurance. And that health insurance would cover the costs of the myriads of accidents and diseases you could be facing. However, when you have an anxiety disorder, or clinical depression, or even work-related stress leading to burnout – there is no coverage for you from any type of insurance schemes here in Malaysia. Do the insurance providers discriminate against mental health issues and illnesses? Or are mental health issues and illnesses on their own, are disquali- fied as being ‘real’ illnesses? We outright reject the notion of the latter, because mental health issues ARE serious. They affect the mind as well as the physical parts of our bodies. Hesitation by the providers We have reached out to many of the insurance pro- viders providing health insurance here in Malaysia. Only a handful actually replied to us when we asked whether they have some form of health insurance that covers mental health issues or illnesses. Here is the email reply we received from Hong Leong Assurance; “Thank you for reaching out to Hong Leong Assurance. At the moment, we do not have comments on this issue. Nevertheless, do keep in touch with us.” And another one from Zurich Malaysia; “Thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately we would not be able to assist you on your article for this round.” It is slightly peculiar that they seem hesitant to speak outright about mental health coverage. The responds we received made it look like speaking about mental health coverage is somewhat taboo. There is however, a couple who seemed to be more open in replying to our enquiry. Below is a reply from Prudential; “We do not have a solution that caters to mental health, but we will be making a media announcement on something that we are launching.” They didn’t say however, whether they what they are launching has anything to do with mental health coverage. The last company to reply to us was AIA, a company that has been more forward in workplace stress than any other in the country. One of the writers in our team asked whether we can have an interview to discuss the coverage for mental health issues. Below is what they replied; “We’ve checked with the team and would like to suggest if we can angle the interview to focus on AIA’s brand promise of “healthier, longer, better lives” instead, which reflects their interest and concern towards the wellbeing of Malaysian in a more holistic manner. This includes their past and current initiatives such as AIA Vitality pro- gramme and Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace.” It seems that AIA is at least working towards pro- moting better workplace culture to relieve stress and prevent mental health issues, however there is still no clear-cut coverage for mental health issues and illnesses for Malaysians. Singapore has coverage It is somewhat funny that AIA Malaysia are not pro- viding for Malaysia, as they have recently announced insurance coverage for mental illnesses in Singapore earlier this year. Below are the types of mental illnesses covered by AIA Singapore under their Beyond Critical Care plan; • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) • Schizophrenia • Bipolar Disorder • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) • Tourette Syndrome (up to age 21) Conversation is stirring We’ve talked to a few experts in the industry about this issue and it seems that they are agreeing in unison. There is no support for mental health in terms of insur- ance currently. Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Abdullah, founder of the Mental Health Foundation and a veteran psychiatrist speaks about the unfortunate discrimination towards people facing mental illnesses by insurance providers. “Mental health issues, ranging from the milder to the more severe are all life problems. And therefore industries, be it insurance, or the community must be involved. Why do they have to exclude certain types of illnesses? I don’t see the reason why individuals with mental illnesses should be discriminated against.” We have also went for a pre-launch event for the Mental Health Experiential Conference (MHEC 2019) happening in 18 to 20 June this year in Petal- ing Jaya. Dr Sangeeta Kaur, Organising Chairman of MHEC 2019 and a licensed counselor with The Board of Counselors Malaysia says that she had also approached insurance companies regarding mental health coverage in Malaysia.