April 2016 – Linking Physical and Mental Health

Mental health is still largely misunderstood in comparison to physical health, but we are getting better as a society at seeing the link between the two. Improvements are being made, but less has been done to reflect these links in the healthcare system, social security or even workers compensation insurance.


The Claim Lab has recently been doing some work with insurance companies to find a better way to reflect the relationship of poor mental health and disability into our processes and data. A decline in physical health can very quickly lead to a decline in mental health, as individuals can find it difficult to adjust to new limitations, income usually decreases creating financial instability, and others’ perceptions of you – such as children or friends – can change.

AETNA has done some interesting research on this in their white paper ‘Disability and the Disabled Mindset: The Human Costs and the Opportunity’. They found that in a study of 1,595 patients with a musculoskeletal disability 64% also had a psychological diagnoses, compared to 15% of the general population.

Why is this link so strong? There are clear stresses involved with having a disability, as outlined above, but we need to better grasp the causes behind these. AETNA cites research from the University of Thessaly which found that depression occurs when a disability ‘robs’ an individual of the meaning in his or her life. In America, and much of the western world, our jobs play a great role in defining who we are: doctors, accountants, chefs, mechanics. We label ourselves according to our work, and when that label changes, as a result of an injury or disability, it is easy to see how that might make you question who you are as an individual.

Insurers have a role to play in this debate, and we are working with a range of compensation providers to help them better understand the complexity of claims where there could be underlying mental health issues.

Most analytics teams look at doctor’s notes and physical health indicators, trying to understand the physical ailment that has created this claim, and not considering that adjusting to life with a disability might be more difficult for some than others. The Claim Lab is researching the use of questionnaires from the health care industry to gain greater insight into what claimants are experiencing for mental health, as well as other diagnoses, and how targeted intervention could help. These cover a range of topics on history of mental health issues, their happiness at their company, and relationships with managers etc. and importantly ask the claimants to score themselves on the indices.

The additional dataset not only provides claims managers with more resource and insight into a claim, but the data feeds back into our model where our experts work to spot trends and links that can help predict future outcomes.

If you are interested in helping the Claim Lab run a pilot of this model, please email us at: info@claimlab.org

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