RBC onward disability insurance

How should anyone—from friends and relatives to colleagues and insurance advisors—talk about mental illness? Not in hushed tones, says former TSN host Michael Landsberg, who has dealt with depression for years. “We’ve been in the Dark Ages too long,” Landsberg told an RBC Insurance advisor forum in Toronto in June.

Mental health can be a struggle. That’s why Landsberg praises the Onward program, which has been offered exclusively by RBC Insurance since 2016 through an agreement with Best Doctors Canada.

Those who qualify for Onward are people with RBC individual or group disability insurance and have made a claim. The program aims to help people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns get healthy, productive, and back to work sooner.


    • Each week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. This includes approximately 355,000 disability cases and 175,000 full-time workers absent from work due to a mental illness.
    • The cost of a disability leave for a mental illness is about double the cost of a leave for a physical illness.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, camh.ca

Early intervention is critical. Onward enables rapid access to psychologists and psychiatrists. Moreover, therapy sessions can be conducted virtually from home. That saves time, eliminates the stress and cost of travelling to an appointment, and maintains privacy.

Along with offering a diagnosis and treatment rec- ommendations, Onward assigns an advocate to each client to guide them through the process.

“My life would have gotten better way faster if I’d had access to something like Onward,” says Landsberg, a long-time mental health advocate (sicknotweak.com). “The comfort of knowing that someone has your back is the biggest thing in the world.”

Forum moderator Ken Bowman, Senior Director, Claims, at RBC Insurance, noted that there has never been more focus on destigmatizing mental illness. Yet a huge number of Canadians (see “More Common Than You Think”) continue to struggle with getting help.

Ken Bowman on left and Michael Landsberg on right

“My life would have gotten better way faster if I’d had access to something like Onward.”

Mental illness affects people of all ages, education levels, income levels, and cultures, and it’s the leading cause of long-term disability claims in Canada.

RBC Insurance reports that close to 40% of its clients who have a group or individual disability claim are dealing with some type of mental health issue.

Isabelle Moreau, a Senior Account Executive with Best Doctors Canada, explains that Onward fills a big gap. Often, people see their family doctor first if they have a mental health issue. The wait for a mental health professional can be long. A review showed that pre-Onward, individuals waited 145 days for a psychiatrist and 120 days for a psychologist. Now, with RBC Insurance’s program, the wait is under two weeks.

Recognizing that individuals can be overwhelmed, Onward offers an invaluable advocate, added panellist Carol Lebert, Director of Support Services with RBC Insurance Claims. “The navigator’s ability to take someone by the hand and move them through the health-care maze is unique and fundamental,” says Lebert.

The Onward clinical team includes psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists and nurses. Lebert, who was once a registered nurse in psychiatry, says the program’s ability to assess, support, and help clients with returning to work is second to none. Reduced wait times, changes to diagnoses and treatment plans, speedier recovery, and less time off all serve the well-being of clients.

“The ability to take someone by the hand and move them through the health-care maze is fundamental. ”

Lebert shared the story of one man whose work and family were in turmoil while he awaited appropriate mental health care. “His life was falling apart,” she says. Once Onward became involved, the man was quickly connected to a psychologist who spoke his language. Not long after, he was able to resume work. “He has been restored.”

With the right disability program and mental health support, Canadians can better deal with these illnesses—and move onward.


    • One in five (20%) Canadians experience a mental health issue in any given year.
    • By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or will have had a mental illness.
    • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some point in their lives.
    • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the population.
    • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for Canadians from adolescence to middle age.
    • Individuals with a mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use problem compared to the general population.
    • Similarly, those with substance use problems are up to three times more likely to have a mental illness.
    • Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, camh.ca

Advisors Open a Healthy Dialogue

When he’s training insurance advisors, Jon Copple always suggests they ask clients this simple question: Do you know what you’d do if you couldn’t go to work tomorrow?

It can be hard for clients to wrap their heads around that, says Copple, Director, Advisor Development, with RBC Insurance. People may do a good job of thinking about how to protect their family if they die prematurely, or how to ensure they don’t outlive their savings. There are plans for those. But there’s often a gap when it comes to mental health.

“Many people fail to plan for a health event along the way,” says Copple. “You need to—and mental health makes up a staggering number of claims.”

Anybody’s well-being revolves around many factors. Chief among them are their physical and mental health, ability to work, and financial security. Effective disability insurance with specialized mental health coverage, like RBC Insurance’s Onward program, can support clients’ well-being in a big way.

“With Onward, you have faster access to support,” says Terry Zavitz, President of Zavitz Insurance in London, Ont. “It’s a sophisticated mental health program.”

Making the case for disability insurance gives advisors more liberty to broach the sensitive topic of mental health. Alexandria Sham, an Insurance Advisor with RBC Insurance in Calgary, starts by talking to clients about protecting their largest asset—not their home or an investment, but their earning potential. The
threat to income and lifestyle is bigger than many people imagine.


    • You want to help protect yourself and your family financially, and disability insurance is an essential part of that.
    • Mental health issues are quite common, and make up a large portion of disability insurance claims.
    • Coping with an illness or injury can often lead to mental health issues as well.
    • Too many people with depression or anxiety, whether it’s a primary or secondary issue, never seek medical help and just keep working through it.
    • Access to appropriate support is critical. The right care, in the right place at the right time, through the right insurance coverage, can help people recover much more quickly.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, camh.ca

Sham notes that disabilities are all too common, and not all are visible. A broken leg may take six to eight weeks to heal. How long does it take the mind? You can’t put a bandage on mental health problems, says Sham. You need to get the right help at the right time to treat the condition, so you don’t upend your life. Sham calls the Onward program forward-thinking in offering mental health support and advocacy as part of a disability package.

advisor talking to the client

“If I bring it up, people feel more open to talk about it. People don’t have to suffer in silence.”

Onward addresses a leading cause of disability in Canada, one that’s also undertreated. The Canadian Mental Health Association says 49% of people who feel they’ve had depression or anxiety have never seen a doctor about it. Many people keep working when they should be attending to their health; others take off work with no timely or appropriate assistance in place.

Zavitz tells clients that they’re far more likely to experience a disability than death before age 65. “Nobody ever expects it to happen to them, but when it does it can be financially devastating,” she says. “But there is a solution.”

“Nobody ever expects it to happen to them, but when it does it can be financially devastating.”

Many people experience multiple or concurrent disabilities, adds Copple. He says it’s important for advisors to convey that mental health issues are not only a primary reason for disability claims but also a frequent secondary outcome. For example, people can experience post-traumatic stress after an injury, or depression after heart surgery or cancer.

When it comes to mental health, rapid access to care is critical. “The longer you wait, the more likely it will become an even bigger issue,” says Copple.

He says another compelling argument is Onward’s ability to deliver treatment at home. As Copple notes, people with mental health issues often have real or perceived barriers to receiving care. For example, the very anxiety that’s creating a mental health crisis for someone can prevent that person from venturing into the community to seek treatment. So home-based interventions are a huge benefit.

To Sham, raising the topic of disability insurance and mental health opens the door. “If I bring it up, people feel more open to talk about it,” she says. “That’s when they say they know someone with a mental illness—we all do—or say they’ve had their own bout. People don’t have to suffer in silence. They can get the help they need.”


    • One in seven Canadians are disabled at any given time. The risk is even higher in the working world: one in three working-age Canadians will at some point experience a period of disability lasting longer than 90 days.
    • Almost two-thirds (62%) of Canadian workers know someone who has had to take time off work due to a disability.
    • Chronic conditions, including mental health issues, are six times more likely to cause a disability than an accident.

Source: RBC Insurance, rbcinsurance.com

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For information on RBC Disability Insurance and the Onward program by Best Doctors, contact your MGA or RBC Insurance at 1-866-235-4332 or visit rbcinsurance.com/onward

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