Working together to effect change

National and global disruptions can show humanity at its worst, but also at its best and most resourceful. Through the bushfires, COVID-19 and related social and economic upheaval, Australians have united with a shared purpose to connect and support each other. We seem to be yearning for long-term positive change.

The stark reality of societal crises gives us clarity about what is important. We have witnessed governments, businesses of all shapes and sizes, unions, and the public sector coming together to solve complex problems, support our people, and plan our path forward. The National Cabinet has been one such example.

And the superannuation and insurance sectors have an opportunity to play a key role in Australia’s recovery, both economically and socially.

Super funds invest in infrastructure, jobs and futures, and insurers are at the coal face during some of the toughest times of people’s lives. Our industry has an opportunity to use our collective skills and resources to help people and businesses get back on their feet, managing risks and preventing harm.

The huge cost of ignoring mental health

While supporting worker mental health throughout this crisis, SuperFriend is working with our super and insurance partners, aspiring to effect a transformational shift in Australian mental health and wellbeing. We echo the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health recommendations to move away from a health-system-only perspective, embracing population-wide early interventions and prevention initiatives as part of a broader government, business, and community strategy.

It makes no sense to wait until people are unwell before intervening. We need to keep people well and connect them with support early if they show signs of ill-health.

This approach—shown to positively influence business outcomes—makes good business sense.

Workplace mental health and wellbeing is intrinsically linked with business performance, with mental illness currently costing Australian businesses over $17 billion each year. Those of us fortunate to be working through these tumultuous times share a responsibility to look after ourselves, remain connected to our peers and support those in need.

COVID-19 has shown us that we can work together to support people in need and achieve amazing things through working collaboratively Our collective response, while imperfect, is a strong foundation. Let’s continue the momentum.

Co-design and co-create greater well-being

Change will occur when stakeholders from across business, government, regulators, unions, research institutions, and industry peak bodies collectively advocate for and drive system-wide change to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people and workplaces, Australia-wide.

However, the issue is not always a shortage of mental health content and programs per se; rather it may be about guiding people to appropriate help and content that is people-centric, that better focuses on specific individual needs.

And where there are gaps and emerging needs, we have an opportunity to design and create solutions together, to meet practical needs today that drive measurable change into the future.

A growing commitment to mental health issues

In recent years we have seen a rise in visible commitment to workplace mental health and in turn more positive action. Yet more needs to be done. COVID-19 has created a societal jolt, prompting massive change and demand for positive action.

Some areas where change is evident include:

  • Federal and State Government alignment
    Positive words, actions, and financial investment from all levels of government have been increasing in the past few years, and exponentially as a response to the bushfires and COVID-19. The result is more support where it is needed, including workplace mental health support which is recognised as a critical setting for intervention.
  • Mental health and suicide prevention mobilisation
    Throughout the mental health sector, there is increasing collaboration with initiatives such as #inthistogether, #youcantalk and emerging national systems-change projects including the National Workplace Initiative. In parallel, we are seeing a substantive rise in people with a lived experience of mental ill-health and suicide being genuinely consulted on policy and program design.
  • Business engagement
    Businesses from all sectors are increasingly aware of their commitment to provide psychologically safe working environments, and are witnessing the economic benefits of mentally healthier, more engaged workers. This increased commitment to workplace mental health means an increased number of businesses requiring assistance to move forward.
  • Superannuation and insurance sector investment
    The superannuation and insurance sectors continue to make a substantive contribution to improving mental health and wellbeing for Australians. In addition to founding and continuing to support SuperFriend, its various collective responses to government and other inquiries and initiatives show the industry’s willingness to help improve social and economic support for Australians with mental health conditions. Making strategic decisions with ‘members’ best interest’ in mind underpins this.
    My interactions with super and insurance partners have highlighted a clear shared desire to be part of system-wide transformation, and opportunities abound. One of these may be how we collectively approach risk assessments and data to inform more inclusive products that better suit individual circumstances and mental health conditions.

We stand at the dawn of a new normal, with a shared drive for positive change. Can one of those positives be a renewed collective passion for improving mental health? If not now, when? If not us, who?