For years, the sandwich generation has had to straddle the onerous burden of late working hours to prove its commitment on the work front along with taking care of family – from raising kids to tending to elderly parents. It’s no surprise that the stress levels of this generation are at an all-time high. And while this double-edged sword can sometimes be a motivator, more often than not, it can destabilise mental and physical health to the point of becoming harmful.
Stress – A silent menace
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that chronic diseases will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths by 2020. The UAE economy is growing at a swift pace, creating a conducive business environment and lucrative job opportunities. Yet, while all this sounds encouraging, it also comes at a cost – high stress levels. According to the findings of the Cigna’s 360-degree Well-Being Survey 2019, an astonishing 91 per cent of the country’s population is stressed, of which 22 per cent face unmanageable levels of stress.
Stress has a powerful impact on various aspects of people’s lives. In addition to affecting mood, energy levels, relationships, and work performance, chronic stress is a risk factor for developing health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression. In fact, stress has put a serious burden on the UAE healthcare system. According to a study conducted by Asia Care Group, the cost of select stress-related illnesses on the healthcare system is estimated at US$698 million per annum. In 2018, healthcare expenditure in the country hit US$13.7 billion (AED50.3 billion) and is estimated to reach US$14.4 billion (AED53 billion) by end-2019.
Insurance is key to managing stress
With chronic diseases on the rise, the UAE is witnessing a growing demand for comprehensive healthcare solutions. The good news is that the country has made world-class healthcare a national priority under the UAE Vision 2021. In a bid to ensure the availability of quality health services, the UAE is on a mission to attract some of the world’s most reputable medical services providers to the country.
Driving this growth is a robust healthcare regulatory environment and the introduction of mandatory employer provided health insurance in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that is set to expand across the seven emirates. In 2019, the number of people in Dubai covered by health insurance reached 4.7 million – a whopping increase compared to 1.8 million in 2013. Sharjah and the Northern Emirates are expected to follow suit on the healthcare reforms, giving a further boost to the health insurance industry in the UAE and improving access to healthcare for its population.
The UAE government is also keen to collaborate with the healthcare sector, especially in areas that impact the overall well-being of the population. Together, they work towards a healthier nation – physically and mentally – whether through raising public awareness or promoting the adoption of structured wellness programmes at work.
Leading health insurance companies are jumping on the bandwagon and expanding their offerings to include preventive care, wellness packages, and even stress management classes that go a long way in enhancing the well-being of employees and helping them cope with the demands of the workplace.
Numbers speak louder than words
Stress is not to be taken lightly, and looking at this epidemic globally, the findings are quite shocking. Ten per cent of hospital admissions, six per cent of emergency department attendances, 10 per cent of primary care visits, and six per cent of outpatient appointments are likely to be the result of stress-related illnesses. It’s clear that action needs to be taken to address the causes of stress and to provide the right support systems for those who are experiencing its side effects.
How can we see the impact of stress?
Given the alarming growth of the stress epidemic worldwide, in September 2019, Cigna Insurance Middle East launched the first-of-its-kind Stress Care initiative in the UAE to encourage residents to ‘See Stress Differently’ and to raise awareness about the long-term impact of stress as a known contributor to chronic diseases.
In line with the UAE’s National Strategy for Wellbeing 2031, the new campaign seeks to empower people to take control of their overall health and wellness. For the first time ever, the Stress Care platform helped people visualise the impact of stress on their body and mind through computing physical readings of their brainwaves, heart rate and skin response to produce a Stress Portrait – a real-time rendering of the collected data into a stunning motion graphic artwork.
UAE residents were also given the chance to experience Cigna’s stress visualisations at a Cigna activation in Dubai, aimed at empowering people to take control of their overall health and well-being. After completing the stress visualisation assessment, people could create a personal Stress Care P.L.A.N. – a simple four-step actionable plan to help them proactively manage their stress.
“We all know that chronic stress has a major impact on people’s ability to perform in their jobs and engage with society,” said Jerome Droesch, CEO of Cigna MENA. “What is not so well known is that stress often manifests itself through physical symptoms, such as insomnia, hypertension, and diabetes. This means that in many instances, people are trying to find cures for the symptoms without recognising the root cause.”
In fact, according to Cigna’s research, the top four clinical manifestations in order of severity in the UAE are: heart disease (includes heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke), mental health problems (includes depression), gastrointestinal problems such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis and irritable colon, and obesity (includes all other eating disorders).
Renowned digital artist Sean Sullivan has applied his data visualisation expertise to help transform live stress readings from the human body into stunning motion graphic artwork to produce the Cigna Stress Portraits. The stress visualisation experience is a real-time rendering of the physical readings of a person’s brainwaves, heart rate, and skin response. While this innovative solution provides insights into how stress is affecting people physically at that very moment, it is not a medical or diagnostic tool.
Warmer colours, such as red and orange, suggest a rather high level of stress, while cooler colours, such as blue, indicate a lower level. Meanwhile, green and purple represent moderate stress. The intensity of stress is also captured in the speed at which the animation moves: a high-stress visualisation moves more rapidly, whereas calmer movements are typical for a low-stress visualisation.
The stress visualisation experience confirms a key suspicion that healthcare stakeholders in the country, added personal care. As consumer expectations continue to evolve, this niche segment presents companies with a unique opportunity to upgrade their services and join the fight against the stress epidemic.