In acknowledgment of World Mental Health Day, organizations around the world are putting a spotlight on the importance of mental health and wellness. And while this day is important for driving awareness and visibility, mental health is not a topic that should be visited only one day a year; it must be an ongoing dialogue, year-long. That dialogue is already underway in the insurance industry, with movements like Dive In leading the way.
Mental health can be a difficult topic to raise, especiallyin a professional environment. That's why advocates within the industry are key to leading the charge. One of those advocates at Gallagher Bassett is Kristy Sands (Vice President, Marketing & Communications). Outside of her role at Gallagher Bassett, she has taken an active role in driving mental health and wellness awareness as liaison to the Dive In Americas Mental Health Committee.
We asked Kristy about her experience working with Dive In, and why mental health is such an important topic.
How did you first get involved with Dive In, and how has your involvement evolved?
A few years ago, when the Dive In Festival was geographically positioned, I was recruited to co-chair the Dive In Miami events. I was asked to lead programming and events for the Miami Dive In initiative, where I had the opportunity to work with broker partners, carriers, law firms, and actuarial firms in Miami to create workshops on bias and gender equity and use storytelling as a tool to promote understanding about equity for underrepresented groups. Since Dive In (which has always been a global event) went virtual, I was invited to be a member of the Americas Steering Committee to promote exciting and diverse programming for North and South America. It is a unique opportunity to amplify underrepresented communities and promote understanding within the insurance community.
Why is mental health an important issue to you?
When I was asked what committee I would like to work with, I quickly put my hand up to work with the mental health track. Given our role of insurance professionals in society, we are uniquely positioned to bring a humanistic ethos to mental wellness.We help people through the most difficult time of their lives. Understanding and empathizing with those who are going through a trying time is at the core of what we do. As a 30 year claims professional who helps others recover from injury or loss, it was a natural fit.
On a personal level, I understand the importance of resilience to overcome tragic personal events. In 2018, I was at a claim review when I got word of the school shooting at Stoneman-Douglas, where my son was a freshman. I can't begin to describe the support I received from my colleagues and the community at-large. But even after the news faded and life continued, the effects of that event still linger to this day. As the parent of a school shooting survivor, having courageous conversations with others about mental wellness has great importance to me.
As a liaison to the Dive In Americas Mental Health Committee, what kind of work do you do?
This is the first year that Dive In has created committees by topic, rather than region. Once we recruited committee leaders (shouts to Alison Sammartano, Gallagher Bassett Claims Supervisor, who quickly stepped up to be a Dive In leader), I challenged all of them to bring diverse and entertaining programming to their tracks.
Dive In is a global FESTIVAL, so the events should reflect the excitement and opportunity that await us as we introduce diversity to our conversations, business opportunities and community. I am particularly impressed with our Mental Health team, who have booked speakers from the world of entertainment and community support, to shake up our perception of mental wellness.
What are some of the biggest barriers to mental health awareness in the insurance industry?
There is still a stigma associated with discussing mental wellness in our industry. Insurance colleagues have firsthand exposure to the challenges facing our clients and their insureds or employees during this time, in addition to dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 on their own work and lives. This environment has put a strain on mental health. When you consider that we support others through tragic events, whether COVID-19-related or every day events that lead to loss, we are seen as counsel for guidance on difficult, and sometimes devastating times. For those who care and empathize for others, it is not unusual to allow the effects of the work to carry over into our personal lives.
How can the industry do a better job of elevanting the topic of mental health, normalizing mental wellness, and destigmatizing seeking support?
Use the health benefits afforded us. For example, Gallagher Bassett provides an Employee Assistance Program that not only helps with mental wellness guidance and resilience, but gives us support for day-to-day stressors like financial challenges, lifestyle changes and taking care of children or aging parents. People are almost ashamed to consult or access it, and are missing out on resources that could lift some of the strain. Don't be ashamed of being vulnerable. Call your organization's help number or hotline. Consult your organization's intranet site for benefits information. These tools are designed to help you, so take advantage!
Have difficult conversations with your colleagues or family. Yes, it is awkward. You might get shut down. It's scary, because you don't know what is coming your way. But offering your support to another person and letting them know that it is OK to talk about their mental health is one step towards normalizing discussions.
Lastly, our organizations should support our leaders, especially line manager level staff, to recognize and support colleagues. Leaders should take the opportunity to model healthy self-care behaviors, have meaningful check-ins with not only their staff, but each other, and ensure that policies and practices enable flexibility when needed.
Inclusion and Diversity
As we continue to drive awareness around mental health and wellness, all are welcomed to play a role. With dialogue around diversity in all of its forms, we can better level the playing field in the insurance industry.
Kristy Sands has 30 years insurance experience in workers’ compensation and liability claims. You can find her on LinkedIn.