Individual Life Suicide Claims Study

2021/04/05

The Economist reported that suicides are under-reported globally by a third due to the stigma associated with them and the burden of proof required for authorities to classify a death as a suicide. It also reported that the global suicide rate had gone down by 29% since 2000, but during this same period, the suicide rate in the United States (U.S.) general population had increased by 18%1. Suicide rates have also been rising for the Canadian general population. The lack of current and industry-wide data has made it challenging for Canadian life insurers to understand how changes in the suicide rate can impact the insured population.

Specifying the risk profile 

Our study shows that Canadian and U.S. suicide rates in the insured population were level, while the suicide rates for the general population were trending upward. Suicide rates are 69% lower for those in the insured population than the general population in Canada.

We also found that insured and general population suicide rates shared similar patterns by age, sex, and manner of suicide, despite the difference in trend. Specifically, for the insured portfolio, we found suicide rates are higher for males, middle-aged individuals, policyholders with low face amounts, smokers, and for policies issued in Quebec. 

We believe that these insights add context for Canadian life insurers, specify the suicide risk profile, and reduce uncertainty on how suicide rates may vary.

COVID-19 and deaths by suicide

As widely reported in the media, the mental and physical effects of COVID-19 on front-line medical professionals have led some to take their lives2. This has been attributed to several factors: witnessing a surge of patient deaths, stressful work schedules, and dealing with colleagues affected by the virus.

The mental health consequences of COVID-19 are likely to be present for longer and peak much later than the actual duration of the pandemic3. Munich Re is actively tracking both COVID-19 deaths and suicides in order to understand its impact in a proactive manner. We anticipate suicide rates to increase for the insured population due to the significant impacts of both the lockdown and the financial disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claims best practice

This paper will also deepen the understanding of suicide for claims professionals with statistics from Munich Re’s claims dataset, including insights on suicide exclusion and Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). From a claims adjudication perspective, we have provided best practice recommendations on applying the suicide clause, whether a policy validity review is necessary during or after the exclusion period and when to reserve the right to validate policies at a later date.

Munich Re’s data provides fresh insights into this critical topic and enables meaningful discussion across the industry while raising awareness about suicide, particularly as we look ahead to deal with the continued effects of COVID-19.

 

References:  1. Staying Alive: Why the global suicide rate is falling. (November 24, 2018). The Economist, 13. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/11/24/why-suicide-is-falling-around-the-world-andhow-to-bring-it-down-more 2. Orr, C. (2020, April 29). ‘COVID-19 kills in many ways’: The suicide crisis facing health-care workers. Canada’s National Observer. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2020/04/29/analysis/covid-19-kills-manyways-suicide-crisis-facing-health-care-workers  3. Gunnell, D., Appleby, L., Arensman, E., Hawton, K., John, A., Kapur, N., Khan, M. M., O’Connor, R. C., & Pirkis, J. (2020). Suicide risk and prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(6), 468 – 471. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30171-1 
In this paper, we examine how Munich Re, Canada (Life)’s comprehensive mortality dataset can contribute to our understanding of suicide, help life insurers build better risk profiles, and make inferences where suicide risk is still emerging.
Contact authors
Colin Sproat
AVP, Biometric Research
Michael Orr
Senior Account Manager, Claims