Life Insurance for Depression, Anxiety, and Mental Health Disorders

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Mental health disorders are a growing problem in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experiences a mental illness in a given year. And yet, many of these people struggle to find affordable life insurance coverage. This is because most life insurance companies consider mental health disorders to be a high-risk condition. In this guide, we will discuss how to get life insurance coverage if you have a mental health disorder.

Can I Get Life Insurance If I Have A Mental Health Disorder?

Different life insurance companies have different policies about who they will insure. This includes people with mental health conditions. Every company has their own set of rules, so it is important to find out what those are before applying for a policy.

There is no one rule that applies to everyone when it comes to depression and anxiety. The severity of each person’s case is very important in deciding what treatment is best.

Even though many insurance companies do not pay out for suicides, in most cases people with depression and anxiety that is manageable can still get a life insurance policy.

Underwriting Anxiety and Depression

Depression and Anxiety Disorders

Mood and anxiety disorders are common, and the mortality risk is due primarily to suicide, cardiovascular disease, and substance abuse. Risk is highest early in the course of the disorder or within 2 years of hospitalization.

Mood disorders are divided into Unipolar (depression) and Bipolar Disorders (manic depressive).

Dysthymia is a chronic low-grade depression that does not meet the criteria for Major Depression.

Criteria for Major Depression require a history of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure for at least 2 weeks plus 4 or more of the following:

To meet the criteria for Bipolar Disorder, there must be a history of at least one episode of mania (abnormally elevated mood) in addition to the Major Depression criteria.

Anxiety disorders include:

Symptoms include worry and nervousness, racing heart, breathlessness, dizziness, sweats, headache, insomnia, and other vague complaints.

Depressive disorders often overlap with anxiety disorders, and in the long term, many patients continue to have symptoms. Recurrences are common for both mood and anxiety disorders.

Treatments For Mood Disorders

The standard treatment of mood disorders includes pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy.

  • While selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the mainstay of therapy for both anxiety and mood disorders, other antidepressants (e.g., the older tricyclic group) are also available.
  • More severe cases may require antipsychotic agents or a noninvasive neuromodulation procedure.
  • Noninvasive neuromodulation uses an electric current or magnetic field to stimulate the brain. These procedures include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS.)
  • ECT is more effective than TMS but requires sedation.

Some newer, investigational approaches to treating refractory major depression are being used.

  • Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that can transiently alleviate treatment-resistant major depression. However, its use for depression is off-label, meaning the FDA has not approved it for this indication.
  • Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is most commonly used to treat opioid dependence or chronic pain but is sometimes used (off-label) for resistant depression.
  • Other noninvasive neuromodulation procedures investigated are magnetic seizure therapy, focal electrically administered seizure therapy, transcranial direct current stimulation, transcranial low voltage pulsed electromagnetic field stimulation.
  • Invasive/surgical neuromodulation is used for severe major depression that has not responded to numerous standard treatments over 2 – 5 years. The procedure consists of surgical deep brain stimulation followed by direct cortical stimulation and ablative neurosurgery.

How To Get Life Insurance With Mental Health Disorders

The underwriter considers historical and current factors when assessing the risk of someone with a mood disorder. However, there is usually limited objective data, so the underwriter needs to use judgment.

Some of the questions that the underwriter answers are:

  • How many symptoms did the person initially present with? How many symptoms does the person have now?
  • Has the person had more than one episode of a mood disorder?
  • Did the person respond to first-line treatment drugs?
  • Has the person been stable with current treatment, or has the medication been adjusted recently?
  • Has the person been compliant with the treatment and follow up?
  • How many favorable and unfavorable factors does the person currently have? (refer to Favorable and Unfavorable Factors table below)
  • Does the person have any history of psychiatric hospitalization? Inpatient or outpatient? Voluntary or involuntary? What was the length of stay?
  • Does the person have any history of ECT or TMS treatment, suicide ideation, or suicide attempt?
  • Does the person have any history of investigational treatment approaches such as Ketamine or other non-invasive or invasive neuromodulation?

Favorable Scenarios for Life Insurance Underwriting

  • The insured only had a single episode.
  • The diagnosis is less than a year ago.
  • No overt marital or family disharmony
  • Actively participating in counseling.
  • Stable occupation
  • No criticism of habits
  • No underlying physical illness
  • No family history of mental illness
  • Stable personality
  • Good social support
  • Compliant with medications
  • Regular but infrequent maintenance follow up care only by a counselor or a primary physician.
  • No history of lost work or school time
  • No other psychiatric diagnosis
  • Age 18 – 65 at time of diagnosis
  • No history of moving violations or driving criticism
  • Use of 1 – 2 psychiatric medications

Unfavorable Scenarios for Life Insurance Underwriting

  • Recurrent episodes
  • Recent diagnosis
  • Marital or family disharmony
  • Not actively participating in counseling if recommended.
  • Occupational instability
  • Alcohol/drug misuse
  • Chronic or disabling health conditions
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Behavior disturbance including violence and adverse MVR information
  • Work-related pressures and financial difficulties
  • Self-adjusts medicine or non-compliant with medication
  • No regular follow-up care or frequent care, and the primary caregiver is a psychiatrist.
  • History of lost work or school time
  • Other psychiatric or personality disorder diagnosis
  • Age at time of diagnosis is over the age of 65
  • Multiple moving violations or driving criticism
  • Use of 3 or more psychiatric medications

Applicants under age 18, with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, with psychotic conditions, or frequent panic attacks will be given individual consideration.

Getting Life Insurance With Anxiety

Decision Factors for Life Insurance Coverage

  • Severity and degree of interference with normal life activities
  • Any treatments
  • History of other mood disorders
  • History of substance abuse

Guidelines for Coverage

  • Mild to moderate anxiety that is effectively treated and managed can be considered for coverage.
  • Severe anxiety can be considered for coverage on a case by case basis.
  • Additional associated mood disorders or substance abuse will limit the coverage, and there is a possibility of decline.

Getting Life Insurance With Bipolar Disorder

Decision Factors for Life Insurance Coverage

  • Severity and degree of interference with normal life activities
  • Treatments
  • Number of manic episodes and the duration of the episodes
  • Any hospitalizations
  • History of Substance Abuse
  • Any past suicide attempts

Guidelines for Coverage

  • Mild to moderate bipolar disorder that is effectively treated and managed.
  • Severe bipolar are typically declined.
  • Any evidence of multiple hospitalizations, longer periods of disability, suicide attempts, substance abuse, or significant interference with normal life activities will typically be declined.

Getting Life Insurance With Eating Disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia

Decision Factors for Life Insurance Coverage

  • The length of time in remission
  • Build and pattern of stability
  • Treatments
  • History of other mood disorders

Guidelines for Coverage

  • At least 1 year of remission
  • After 1 to 4 years in remissions, effectively treated and managed with no mood disorder and a normal body build, it can be considered for a moderate rating.
  • After 4 years in remission, one can be considered up to a standard rating.
  • After 10 years in remission with no treatments, one can be considered up to a preferred rating.

Getting Life Insurance With Depression Disorder

Decision Factors for Life Insurance Coverage

  • The severity and degree of interference with normal life activities
  • Treatment and compliance
  • Hospitalization or period of disability
  • Stability of the depression
  • History of substance abuse
  • History of other mood disorders
  • Any past suicide attempts

Guidelines for Coverage

  • Mild to Moderate depressions can be considered for coverage.
  • Severe depression has a slim to no chance of coverage.
  • A slow response to treatment, recurrent episodes, past hospitalization, longer periods of disability, suicide attempts and will lower the chance of coverage with a possibility of decline.

Getting Life Insurance With Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Decision Factors for Life Insurance Coverage

  • The severity and degree of interference of normal life activities
  • Any treatments
  • Any hospitalizations
  • History of substance abuse
  • Any past suicide attempts

Guidelines for Coverage

  • Mild to moderate PTSD that is effectively treated and managed can be considered for treatment.
  • Severe PTSD or recent episodes can be considered for coverage after 6 months of resolution from the most recent episode. Coverage is on a case by case basis.
  • Any evidence of multiple hospitalizations, longer periods of disability, suicide attempts, substance abuse, or significant interference with normal life activities will typically be declined.

Getting Life Insurance With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Decision Factors for Life Insurance Coverage

  • Age of the applicant
  • Any treatments
  • Severity and level of interference with normal daily life activities
  • History of substance abuse

Guidelines for Coverage

  • Mild to severe ADHD that is effectively treated and managed can be considered for coverage.
  • The severity determines the rating of the life insurance coverage, but coverage shouldn’t be an issue.

Does life insurance pay for suicidal death?

Medical underwriters will look at an applicant’s medical history regarding mood disorders, including suicide. The time since the last documented suicidal thought or attempt will determine if the applicant will be accepted or not.

With suicide, there is an exclusion period, typically the first 2 years of owning the life policy, where the insurance company can challenge a death claim.

What If I’m Declined?

Even if your life insurance application was declined by an insurer, you can still purchase life insurance through a guaranteed issue policy.

What Is A Guaranteed Issue Policy?

A guaranteed issue policy is life insurance that does not depend on your health. This means that you will be able to get life insurance even if you have had a stroke and have been declined before. However, there are a few drawbacks that you should consider before getting this type of policy.

Many insurers that offer guaranteed issue life insurance policies have a limit on the death benefit. This amount is usually between $25,000 and $30,000 depending on your age.

If you die from natural causes, your family will have to wait for two or three years before the company will pay the full death benefit. Most companies, however, will pay a benefit equal to the total premiums paid in plus 5 to 10 percent.

Since the insurer is not sure how healthy you are, they will charge you more for your life insurance policy than someone who is healthier.

Although there are some disadvantages to guaranteed issue life insurance, it is still a better option than asking your loved ones to pay your final expenses.

Need Help Getting Life Insurance Coverage?

If you have a preexisting medical condition and want to buy life insurance, you will need help from an expert. This person can help make sure that you get coverage so that you don’t get declined.

Warning: Applying for life insurance without a medical exam can be risky. If you are declined coverage, it could be at least two years before you are able to get any life insurance.

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Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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