Waving through windows, walking the same route, double jobbing as teacher and parent, not being able to see our family and friends – the pandemic has taken its toll physically, financially, emotionally and mentally.

The impact varies – it may be niggly nervousness, an escalation of cabin fever. For others, it is crippling anxiety while some are battling depression in an unprecedented way in an unprecedented time.

Who can you turn to? Where can you go to find health when public services are overwhelmed during a pandemic? If you are paying for health insurance, there could be help available that you aren’t even aware of.

Barbara Sheahan, managing director of HealthCare Compare takes us through the different benefits that each of the three health insurance companies provide.


Speaking to someone about how you’re feeling can be highly effective in helping you work through any issues and identify potential solutions. It might sound uncomfortable opening up to a stranger, but professional counsellors provide a safe, judgement-free space for you to voice your thoughts and – crucially – be heard.

Vhi, Laya and Irish Life Health all provide 24/7 access to confidential counselling over the phone for all their members. You can reach out to discuss anything from mental health difficulties to financial or legal issues and may be referred to a specialist for further support – depending on your needs and, in some cases, your policy entitlement.

For example, Laya offers five face-to-face counselling sessions on certain applicable schemes, while Irish Life cover six sessions through their ‘Health Minds’ programme. While many of these sessions are conducted remotely during the pandemic, some face-to-face appointments are still being offered on a case-by-case basis.

You can find further details on the services available through:

  • Irish Life Health, ‘Healthy Minds’ programme.
  • Laya Mental Wellbeing benefits.
  • Vhi Online Health Team.
  • Meditation and mindfulness

    Some insurers offer additional benefits to support your wellbeing. Through Laya, for example, you may be referred for meditation sessions following a phone consultation. These can help to declutter your thoughts and reduce feelings of anxiety.

    Some popular meditation and mindfulness apps, such as Headspace and Calm, prove effective in helping people to reduce stress, sleep better, and maintain a healthy mind. You may already be subscribed to these apps but did you know that if you are a Vhi, member you can get a €30 discount on annual subscriptions? Irish Life offer a €30 contribution to meditation support devices and mindfulness app subscriptions through their ‘Mind Extra’ plan, available on the 4D range.

    At-home resources

    Irish Life Health offer a number of free resources to help you care for and understand your mental health. Some are available regardless of whether you’re a member of Irish Life or not. For example, their Couch Counsellor series is available on YouTube, offering professional advice to make lockdown easier on your mental health.

    Other benefits are restricted to members, such as their LifeWorks App. This includes a mental health assessment to help you understand your specific personal challenges, and what actions you can take to combat them. They also offer a range of benefits under their ‘Mind Extra’ plan – including contributions towards stress reduction and self-compassion programmes, positive mental health training and life coaching.

    Physical health for your mental health

    It’s widely acknowledged that improving your physical health through exercise and a healthy diet can help improve your mental wellbeing. But with gyms closed, exercise restricted, and the ever-present temptation to comfort eat, staying healthy at home can be challenging.

    There are a few different ways your health insurance can support you to live a healthier, more active lifestyle.

    Eating healthy

    Keeping to a healthy diet, that isn’t overly restrictive or punishing, can have an often surprisingly positive impact on your mental wellbeing. That doesn’t mean denying yourself the food you enjoy – it simply means knowing when to treat yourself, and when to stick to healthier choices.

    The diet that works for you and your mental health is very personal. To help you make the right choices, Laya offer access to a dedicated Healthcoach for all members over the age of 18. In addition to access to the Healthcoach app and an online health assessment, you can also get a tailored fitness, nutrition and wellbeing programme.

    Laya’s mental wellbeing benefits also include money back on dietician consultations. Similarly, Vhi provide access to expert dietitians and nutritionists over the phone to help you achieve and maintain optimal body health. There are multiple options through the three different providers, depending on your plan.

    Physical fitness

    Regular exercise can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety but it can sometimes be hard to motivate yourself when you’re feeling low. Even a short walk can help you reset and having a flexible but structured fitness plan encourages exercise little and often so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

    Irish Life’s MyLife app helps encourage members to live healthier, with real-time health scores to help understand and monitor physical and mental wellbeing. Through the app, members can track workouts, monitor sleeping habits, and set personal fitness goals.

    There are also many benefits available via specific plans across all three providers, such as physiotherapy, discounts on gym memberships, yoga and Pilates classes, and money back on strength and conditioning.

    Make the most of your plan

    Health insurance doesn’t come cheap – so make the most of the benefits you’re paying for. Many people are unaware of exactly what they’re entitled to, often only looking at their health insurance when they need hospital treatment or other medical care. If mental health was never really a consideration for you before, it may be more of a priority in the current climate so be sure to review all your options when renewing your existing policy.

    For more information and to find a plan suitable for you, whether you are renewing or signing up for health insurance for the first time, log onto www.hcc.ie. Launched in November 2020 to support people through the pandemic, they are currently offering their services for free.