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Health insurer gives over 50s better access to mental health care

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Saga has launched a new service offering older people access to mental health support and treatment without the need for a GP referral.

It comes as a survey shows a third of people over 50 have had mental health issues during their life and one in five said their mental wellbeing had declined as they got older.

The study of more than 10,000 over 50s found the loss of a loved one, loneliness, and a lack of identity after leaving the workplace were the most common triggers for mental health problems among people in this age group.

NHS figures show 50% of younger people with depression are referred to mental health services, compared to just 6% of older people.

Kevin McMullan, head of health insurance for Saga, said: “Talking about mental health issues is clearly something that many people still shy away from and it is important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health.

“With one in five of our members telling us their mental health has declined as they got older, it has never been more important for people to have the support they need in the way they need it.”

The over 50s insurer has added the new Stronger Minds service to its Super Health PMI [private medical insurance] Plan, which currently covers in-patient and out-patient mental health treatment.

Treatment plans range from telephone counselling to treatment with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

The additional benefit does not cost extra.

McMullan said: “Our service has been launched to compliment the work done by our health services in providing the necessary support required by those with mental health issues.

“For some the first step is often the hardest and having to confide in their GP and then suffer the lengthy wait for a referral can often be just the excuse they need not to reach out for help.

“We’re hoping that being able to bypass this step in the process will ensure more people can get the help they need so that they can continue to do the things they love.”

What do other insurers offer?

Saga isn’t the only firm offering mental health services to customers. Bupa has a scheme, which allows patients to skip a GP referral for mental health, musculoskeletal and cancer symptoms.

Mental health cover also comes as standard with VitalityHealth’s PMI policies. It offers preventative support – such as mindfulness – as well as self-referrals for support including telephone or face-to-face counselling and consultations with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

What do advisers say?

Nadeem Farid, head of employee benefits at financial advice firm, Drewberry, said: “It’s great to see Saga expanding its coverage of mental health with its Stronger Minds service. This is especially the case given Saga’s focus on older clientele, who tend to be less well-represented in terms of their mental health needs than younger generations.

“Insurers revamp their offerings all the time and there are some changes coming in the new year with a couple of the major providers. With greater awareness of the need to properly address mental health conditions, especially among the UK’s ageing population, there is scope for other providers to expand in this area, also.”

Related: See’s The valuable insurance extras you could be missing out on for more information.

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