Next Post: Tis the season to be jolly! December 19, 2014
To talk about it.......or not? September 10, 2014

I am going to ask a few minutes of your valuable time to read through my very first blog.  I hope you find it informative and useful and I welcome any feedback or questions that you may have as a result of tackling the subject of mental health. 

To start the article, the following is an extract of a note from someone who is suffering from a mental health disorder to their manager and a number of close colleagues.

“About 8 months ago, I was diagnosed with severe depression.  This was after a period of several months where I was slowly sinking into a very deep and dark space.  Fortunately (looking back!), my deteriorating behaviour resulted in a demand by my wife that I visit the doctor – which saw me being placed on a mental health programme consisting of some extremely helpful medication and regular appointments with a psychologist (my “specialist” on Mondays!).

The result of this programme is that I am significantly better than where I was in the middle of last year, but still have a long way to go.

I have to say it’s been a very interesting (if not painful and challenging) journey.  As a part of the insurance industry, over the years we have come to question and challenge mental health – something akin to the RSI epidemic of the 1990’s.  We have become naturally sceptical and wary of anyone using a mental health disorder as a reason to claim on our policy.  We even restrict the level of cover to ensure we don’t get taken advantage of.  But now that I’ve been able to witness it first hand, I have a very clear appreciation of what some people experience.

What was it like for me? Well, after hitting the lowest of lows, my doctor described it best by saying every time that you have a problem, stress or issue, you open up a drawer and put it in there.  After several years of putting problems in the drawer it gets full and the brain is simply unable to process natural thoughts, decisions or emotions.  I essentially lost control of any form of rational, emotional thinking.

When you like to have some form of control over your life, to have things happening in your head that you have no control over whatsoever, is without doubt the scariest thing I’ve had to deal with – ever.

Physically, it has also been a challenge – some days I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus and have lead weights tied around my feet.  Through most of last year it was a big effort to get out of bed and get to work!

The other issue is the medication which has taken some time to get used to – disrupted sleep and weight gain are a couple of the main side effects I’ve been battling and they seem to come in cycles – I had the sleeping thing under control for the last couple of months, but recently have started to have problems again which are knocking me around.  I have an appointment with my doctor tonight to see if there’s anything we can do.

While the experience has not been a pleasant one, the outcome has helped me feel the best I have in 18 months or so (although still a long way to go!) and also helped me deal with others who have been experiencing similar issues – and for that I should be thankful”.

Unfortunately for many people in today’s society, mental health remains a taboo subject – but thankfully, things are slowly changing.

Greater training and awareness by general practitioners, more investment by governments, increased activity by not-for-profit organisations and high profile members of our community happy to share their experiences, have all contributed to reducing the stigma associated with mental health.

And business has a big part to play.

According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, around 7.3 million or 45% of Australians aged 16–85 will experience a common mental health-related condition such as depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder in their lifetime.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that over $7 billion per annum is spent on mental health-related services in Australia. Services include residential and community services, hospital-based services, consultation with specialists and general practitioners.

A recent survey conducted by PWC on behalf of beyondblue identified that the overall prevalence of mental health conditionsis highest in the financial and insurance sector with 33 per cent of people experiencing a mental health condition.  And that absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims cost Australian workplaces approximately $11 billion per annum.

From a business perspective, there is a direct relationship to the health of your staff and the health of your bottom line.

Importantly, if this is a reflection of the extent of mental health within the broader Australian community then business also has a part to play in how it deals with its customers.

St Andrew’s is a proud member of the Financial Services Council (FSC).  The mission of the FSC is to continuously develop the social, economic and regulatory framework in which we operate. 

An important obligation of St Andrew’s is our compliance with the FSC Standards which requires us to develop processes and products that provide our customers with a quality assurance that goes beyond that required from the legislative and regulatory framework.

A new Standard introduced last year has resulted in St Andrew’s creating a series of training modules to ensure that all staff and non-AFSL distributors of our products receive an appropriate level of education in relation to mental health awareness.

We have recently rolled out a number of face-to-face and online training modules that help staff and a number of our distributors gain a level of understanding so they are better prepared to interact with customers who may be impacted by a mental health disorder.  These modules have proved extremely valuable and feedback from attendees has been very positive.

As an organisation that assists customers with mental health concerns, it is important that St Andrew’s acknowledge the extent of the disorder within the broader Australian community.  Providing our colleagues and distributors with a level of knowledge that helps them deal with customers will have an important flow-on affect to their own colleagues, family and friends.

Why am I so passionate about this subject? Quite simple really, the extract at the beginning of this article was written by me.  As someone with a great job, strong family environment and everything to live for, the slow emergence of depression is something you can’t predict, comprehend or plan for.  You just need to get help at the very first sign that things aren’t right.

I’m in a much better place now, but there’s no quick fix – it won’t happen overnight and you need to have patience and a lot of support around you.

I will finish off by reiterating that mental health disorders are very real and they can have a devastating impact on an individual and those around them.  But equally, early diagnosis and a sound management plan can be a blessing.

Stay healthy!

Tell us what you think...
Name (Optional):
Email (Optional):
Subscribe to blog?

Insurance products and information described in this website are issued, underwritten and provided by St Andrew’s Insurance (Australia) Pty Ltd (SAI) ABN 89 075 044 656 AFSL 239649 and/or St Andrew’s Life Insurance Pty Ltd (SALI) ABN 98 105 176 243 AFSL 281731. Any advice given about any product is of a general nature only and is not based on any consideration of your objectives, financial circumstances or needs. To decide if a product is right for you please read the information contained in the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) or Financial Services Guide (FSG) for that product which can be obtained by Contacting Us