Life insurance shock for TV presenter mum

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2013
Sonia Gray with 4-year-old  twin daughters Inez and Thandie.
PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax NZ
HAPPY FAMILY: Sonia Gray with 4-year-old twin daughters Inez and Thandie.

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When TV glamour-girl Sonia Gray emerged from the dark grip of depression while pregnant, she thought her fight with mental illness was behind her.

The actress and presenter didn't imagine it would catch up with her when she applied for life insurance last week, and was told her premium would be higher because of her history of depression. "I was shocked," she said.

"A lot of people have mental health issues around pregnancy. It's often hormonal," she said. "The insurer's reaction was bizarre."

Gray is one of thousands of Kiwi women being forced to pay more for life insurance - and in some cases being refused - because they have been treated for conditions such as post-natal depression. Insurers say it is a possible indicator of future depression and could contribute to lower life expectancy.

Mental health experts are astounded. They fear the insurance issue could worsen the stigma around maternal mental illness and discourage women from seeking treatment.

However, insurance agencies say the risks are set by big overseas re-insurers and they have no control over it.

Gray discovered the issue when she and her husband applied for life insurance while getting a mortgage.

Her husband was approved straight away, but Gray, who suffered depression while pregnant with 4-year-old twins Thandie and Inez, was told her premium would be higher because of her medical history. She was baffled by the excuse.

"I'd understand if there was a study or multiple studies linking depression during or after pregnancy to an early death but as far as I know there's not.

"We are trying really hard reduce the stigma around depression and this is just an archaic attitude in every sense."

Gray is ambassador for Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand, a support network for women who have issues with mental health around pregnancy.

Dr Sara Weeks, a maternal psychiatrist, was "astounded" by the policy. As far as she knew, there was no study linking post-natal depression - without suicidal thoughts - to lower life expectancy.

"Post natal" was a broad term that could cover anything from mild depression during or after pregnancy to post-partum psychosis, she said.

Weeks said about 16 per cent of New Zealand women were believed to suffer some kind of pregnancy depression.

Auckland University senior lecturer in mental health nursing, Anthony O'Brien, feared the policy could lead to complicated diagnoses as doctors tried to avoid using the "depression" term.

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Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements called the policy "dreadful".

Gray said after she challenged her insurer on the policy, they eventually offered her the original rate quoted.

"But it's still unacceptable."

Affected by depression? Contact the National Depression Helpline Freephone: 0800 111 757

- Sunday Star Times

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