Life insurers have a significant contribution to make towards the destigmatisation of mental health in South Africa. This extends from how the industry underwrites mental health conditions, to how insurers can support a change in the perceptions surrounding mental health.

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Experts discuss mental health in South Africa at Investec Life's Reimagine Mental Health Symposium.


These considerations, amongst others, were raised at the Investec Life's Reimagine Mental Health Symposium which was hosted in partnership with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Conversations with specialist panellists from the medical and insurance fields, together with Grammy Award winner and international DJ and music producer, Black Coffee, brought to light the need for a redefined role for employers and life insurers in helping people manage their mental health without the fear and stigma historically linked to mental illness.


Panel 1: Mental health in the South African workforce

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Enabling a positive impact within the life insurance industry

“The impact of mental health on societies and economies is becoming increasingly serious. Our mental health symposium has started a conversation about an issue that we feel is critical. As life insurers, when it comes to the realities of mental health, we have to be more proactive in our support of clients and more educational around our solutions,” said Sinenhlanhla Sithomo, Head of Insurance Business at Investec Life.


Sinenhlanhla Sithomo, Head of Insurance Business: Investec Life
Sinenhlanhla Sithomo, Head of Insurance Business, Investec Life

We want to change how we view, define and understand mental health. We are taking the first step as life insurance providers to challenge ourselves to reimagine and redefine our role in how we enable mental health to be managed and treated.


The second pandemic to come out of Covid-19 was the mental health pandemic. “It’s a condition that challenges traditional models currently used in the life insurance industry, which are geared towards insuring health conditions that are more easily measured,” added Sithomo. 

Expanding on how life insurers can make a real difference, Cassey Chambers, Operations Director for SADAG, said so much has happened in the last few years and it is important to create a platform where we can discuss the current status of mental health, especially with regards to the impact and effect in the workplace and on the economy. 


Panel 2: Reimagining life insurance and mental health

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Cassey Chambers, Operations Director for SADAG
Cassey Chambers, Operations Director for SADAG

Our role as a mental health patient advocacy group is to change ‘what is’ into ‘what should be’ and through these engagements we hope to encourage the kind of action we urgently need in mental health.

psychiatrists in South Africa
Approx 4,000
psychologists in South Africa

Getting our minds accurately around the challenge

When it comes to reimagining mental health and life insurance there are many issues to consider, added Kaylash Rama, Head of Underwriting at Investec Life. “With mental health issues having a significant impact on overall health, it’s time to challenge the industry. The business imperative of this impact is not just affecting our clients but the sector as a whole, particularly from an underwriting perspective,” she said.

Also speaking at the symposium, Professor Stoffel Grobler, Psychiatrist at Corporate Mental Health Company, indicated that one in four women and one in six men in South Africa will have a depressive episode, while one in five will have an anxiety disorder, but often these illnesses go untreated. He went on to state that medical doctors are five times more likely to have a depressive episode.

“There are only 469 psychiatrists in the country and around 3,000 to 4,000 psychologists. The reality is that there aren’t enough specialists to fill the gap that currently exists, and with this in mind, we need to look at different ways to deliver service in primary healthcare facilities,” he explained.


Mental health stats

Global and South Africa. Source: World Health Organisation, Health-e, USAF and the World Population Review.

1 in 8

People live with a mental disorder.

14 million

People experienced an eating disorder in 2019, including 3 million children and adolescents.

40 million

People experienced bipolar disorder.

970 million

People around the globe were living with a mental disorder in 2019.

1 in 300

People worldwide are affected by schizophrenia.

301 million

People were living with anxiety in 2019. 58 million of those were children and adolescents.

Conversations emerging from Investec Life’s Reimagine Mental Health Symposium were aligned with a recent call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) for “concrete actions to address mental health concerns in the working population". The WHO noted that an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety costing the global economy nearly US$ 1 trillion.

In conclusion, Sithomo said, “Through this symposium we wanted to not only raise red flags for life insurance providers to consider in terms of how we better manage and support people experiencing mental health conditions, but to identify green flags on how we can break its stubborn stigma in society. We have seen a real commitment to rise up which can make for a healthier mindset on all things mental health - and that is the start we need.” 

Investec Life Limited, a member of the Investec Group, is a licensed insurer (Reg.No. 1944/017130/06) and an authorised FSP (47702). Terms and conditions apply.


  • Disclaimer


    Investec Life Limited, a member of the Investec Group, is a licensed Life Insurance Company and an authorised Financial Services Provider (FSP number 47702). The video on this page contains factual information and should therefore not be regarded as financial advice. Terms and conditions apply.

    Focus and its related content is for informational purposes only. The opinions featured on the site are not to be considered as the opinions of Investec and do not constitute financial or other advice. The information presented is subject to completion, revision, verification and amendment.

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