Anxiety and depression are common ailments in our society. This is especially true in times of challenging economics, war and high unemployment, as we are currently experiencing. Not only is it quite prevalent, but depression is present in several forms and levels of severity.
We all get depressed from time to time, due to life events or hormonal swings. How can you tell if your mood changes are normal or if you require treatment for depression? Even though we all like to self-diagnose, only a physician can determine if someone suffers from clinical depression.
So how do life insurance companies handle applicants with a history of depression? What do they look for? How can you prepare? What is the likely outcome? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more. Then you’ll be ready to get started with your term life insurance application.
What is Depression?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression is characterized by a depressed or sad mood, diminished interest in activities that were once pleasurable, weight gain or loss, fatigue, guilt, difficulty concentrating and recurrent thoughts of death among others. An individual is usually considered to be suffering from depression if he/she is experiencing five symptoms for a period of two weeks.
There are several types of depression, each with varying levels of severity. The five most common types are:
1. Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression)
- Depression that is disabling
- Prevents normal day-to-day functioning
2. Chronic Depression (Dysthymia)
- Less severe
- Generally not disabling
- Long-term depressed mood
- Generally lasting longer than two years
3. Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive)
- Alternating between periods of clinical depression and mania (elevated mood)
4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Depression that occurs at the same time each year
- Typically occurs around the beginning of a new season
- Can occur in the fall, winter, spring, summer
- Fall and winter are the most common seasons
5. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Severe anxiety that occurs as the result of exposure to a traumatic event
- Can be disabling
- Condition generally lasts more than 30 days
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates 1 in 10 Americans suffer from some form of depression. That is a staggering number. The following groups are most likely to suffer from depression:
- Ages 45-64
- Blacks, Hispanics and non-Hispanics of other races or multiple races
- Previously married people
- Those with less than a high school education
- Those unable to work or unemployed
- Those with no health insurance
What Insurance Companies Look For
Life insurance companies want to see that people with a history of depression (1) have received or are receiving treatment, and (2) have completed regular follow up visits per doctor’s orders. Also important is the presence of necessary lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight control, no tobacco use, etc.
The life insurance company you apply with will be looking specifically at:
- Your age at diagnosis
- The amount of time since diagnosis
- The duration and severity
- The number of episodes per year and their severity
- Medication used and compliance with medication
- If you require frequent changes in medication (significant because the life insurance company must be sure the disorder is well controlled)
- Any suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide
- Any hospitalizations/emergency room visits for depression
- Concurring disorders (such as anxiety or PTSD)
- Current alcohol or substance abuse, or history of such
- If you are disabled due to depression
- Any other major health problems
How to Prepare for Your Term Life Insurance Application
There are important measures you can take to prepare yourself before applying for term life insurance. Doing so will help your chances of getting approved at the best rating class possible. Use the following tips to put yourself in the best position to win:
- Have all doctors’ name/address/phone numbers available.
- Make sure your doctor(s) has copies of all records regarding the treatment and follow up reports.
- Have a list of all medications and their dosages available.
- Document in medical records what the effective medication/dosage is and how long symptoms have been well controlled under the current treatment.
- Be sure the cause of the depression is well documented in medical records (death of a loved one, chemical imbalance, side effect of medication, etc.).
- If medications or dosages were changed/altered dosage, be sure the reasons for the changes are documented in medical records.
- Do not skip any follow up visits with your doctor.
What our Experience has Shown
We’ve helped thousands of people apply for term life insurance and many of those people had a history of depression. Here are a few things we’ve learned:
- Sometimes a medication used for depression is prescribed to treat some other unrelated disorder.
- Life insurance companies will sometimes assign lower rating classes due to the medication taken. Therefore if you do take a depression/anxiety medication to treat an unrelated disorder it should be well documented in medical records.
- Well controlled mild/moderate cases of depression will often be approved at a Standard rating class.
- Very mild cases of depression, or those that were situational and have since recovered, may be approved at a Preferred rating class. However, this is case by case.
- The rating class will get worse, and the premium will be higher, along with the severity of the depression.
- The life insurance company will often postpone an application if the correct medication/dosage needed to control the depression has not yet been established.
- The life insurance company will usually decline applicants if there have been suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide.
- The life insurance company will usually decline applicants if the diagnosis is depression due to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Real Examples from Real Customers
Kristine applied for term life insurance when she was 36 years old.
- Diagnosed at age 32
- Diagnosed with Situational Depression due to the loss of her mother
- Treatment involved medication and counseling
- Treatment lasted six months
- No recurrence of depression since treatment ended
- Visits her doctor annually
- No other medical conditions
- Outcome: Approved at a Preferred rating class
- Premium: $480 annually
Not So Good Outcome
David applied for term life insurance when he was 45 years old.
- Diagnosed at age 38
- Diagnosed with mild Bipolar Disorder
- Currently treated with medication
- Condition is controlled
- No hospitalizations or suicide attempts
- History of high blood pressure
- Outcome: Rated Substandard – Table 2 rating class
- Premium: 1,800 annually
Marianne applied for term life insurance when she was 52 years old.
- Diagnosed at age 48
- Diagnosed with Chronic Depression
- Currently treated with medication and therapy
- Has changed medications twice in past year
- One emergency room visit and hospitalization
- One suicide attempt within past two years
- No other medical conditions
- Outcome: Declined
You can see Kristine had the best outcome, due to a common case of situation depression brought on by the sudden loss of her mother. Her short but effective treatment, along with no recurrence and regular follow-up visits helped her secure a Preferred rating class. David’s depression was more severe, and his medical history of hypertension led to a lower rating class and higher premium. Finally, Marianne’s depression was not well-controlled. Her recent changes in medications, coupled with the suicide attempt, resulted in her application being declined.
What This All Means for You
The good news about applying for term life insurance when you have a history of depression is — yes, you can qualify for coverage! Your outcome and resulting premium cost will depend greatly on a number of factors, including the type of depression, your treatment history, the level of control, follow up, your medical history and more. While you can control the outcome to some extent through good follow up and lifestyle habits, other uncontrollable factors will come into play when the life insurance company reviews your application.
As always, please discuss your situation with your life insurance agent or broker, and provide as much information as you can. They will help direct you to the best life insurance company based on your individual circumstances. And if you are not pleased with the offer you receive, you can always apply with another company.