No mental health problem for 40 years, but still unable to insurers

Shelta Marc had a breakdown in her teenages, she is hypervigilant about her health. But she was refused by life insurance companies

When Shelta Marc was a teen, she had a mental illness. Once.

She was a voluntary patient in a sanatorium for two months, and she has never experienced a recurrence. She was facing a lot of stress at the time that it happened, and she honestly think all she needed was a good rest.

But how that rest has came to her over the past 40 years. When she needed new life insurance recently she hoped things might have changed. Was it really necessary for companies to probe so far back? We have the Equality Act now, which tightens legislation on discrimination, so has there been progress? Not so much. The disability section of the Equality and Human Rights Commission website outlines responsibilities for insurance companies on mental health. And while, under disability discrimination law, it’s unlawful for insurance providers to unfairly discriminate against someone with a mental health problem, they are still entitled to ask questions about previous mental health conditions.

Her father warned her after breakdown that this would happen. He had worked in insurance, so she had to believe him, but at the time she thought, surely not? But he was right. It would always come up.

She ticked this box when seeking life insurance quotes “Have you ever been referred to a psychiatrist or had psychiatric treatment?”– adding that it was a very long time ago. That doesn’t matter. But everything stops when she admit that she has been hospitalised for mental illness.

“What effect does this condition have on your life?” she asked one insurance adviser. “Er, none!” “And how does this affect you now?” she replied, ignoring she response. “I told you, none!” “I have to ask the questions,” she said defensively. When did the treatment stop, when did she last have treatment … on and on it went.

As the Time to Change campaign says, one in four people are affected by mental illness at some point in their lives. It’s not exactly uncommon. And there’s probably a lot of undiagnosed mental illness – hardly surprising given the stigma that persists, despite campaigns for mental health problems to be treated more fairly.

She is no longer sick and hasn’t been for a very long time. But she is sick of having to go over and over this. For example, If she  would committed a crime when I was 18 and been imprisoned for up to two years, she wouldn’t have to unveil it. But it is a very much shorter stay as a voluntary patient in a psychiatric hospital automatically, it caused her suspect. Klaxons go off when she mention it.

How does that early experience affect her life expectancy? How does it make her a poor insurance risk? It doesn’t. She is never sick. She is self-employed so she can’t afford to be cavalier with my health. She doesn’t smoke, barely drink and exercise regularly. But every time she want insurance she have to go through this rigmarole. It’s time-consuming, upsetting and exhausting. She is always referred to the underwriters before getting a quote. If it’s never happened to you, so you never understand her feelings, it’s a horrible feeling; like being pulled out for an extra interrogation at customs because you look suspicious.

She can hardly hide her short period of illness at this stage, but why she do that? Because she did nothing wrong. If anything, a breakdown in her past has helped her to stay healthy now. Even though if she has ever been through one, she is hypervigilant about possible triggers. As the former Downing Street press secretary Alastair Campbell, who had a breakdown in the 1980s, has written, these higher insurance premiums underline “how people look differently at mental and physical health. They make assumptions, for example that someone with a history of depression might take their own life. She reckon she is in better physical shape than most men her age and probably better mental shape.”

She reckon her mental health is miles better than if she has never had a breakdown. But will she ever be able to convince the insurers?

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