Funds line up projects tackling workplace mental health problems

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SuperFriend, the mental health support and research body backed by 17 of Australia’s major super funds and seven group insurers, is preparing to roll out six pilot workplace projects with various other organisations plus an important research project into insurance and fund data on death and disability.

The research, being conducted with the IFS Insurance Solutions and involving 14 funds, their administrators and group insurers, may shed some light on the generally accepted view that suicide claims to funds are dramatically understated. Some fund executives believe, for instance, that up to 25 per cent, or more, of death claims may involve the member taking his or her own life.

The chair of SuperFriend is Damian Hill, who is CEO of the largest fund by membership, the two-million-member REST, which also has the largest number of young people on its books, who are at highrisk of suicide.

Margo Lydon, SuperFriend CEO, says the body’s former mental health reference group was replaced two years ago by experts in workplace mental health on its steering committee. This has enabled it to develop various targeted and unique projects around a range of workplace mental health and wellbeing issues in conjunction with like-minded organisations. KPMG is currently evaluating these projects.

The insurance data research project, called SuperMIND, for instance, is a very big one which is only part-way through, which will attempt to obtain better quality information from the sector. Another, to be announced shortly involves suicide prevention from a workplace perspective.This will be with a leading university.

The six pilot workplace programs are:

Understanding Mental Health Problems
Developed in partnership with SANE Australia, and implemented in both a local government setting and a community services organisation, Understanding Mental Health Problems aims to improve awareness and understanding of mental illness. By utilising a range of non-clinical, easy to understand resources such as factsheets, podcasts and speaker presentations by people who have experienced mental health issues, participants will improve their knowledge and understanding of mental illness; learn early warning signs and how to respond and where to go for help.

Bereavement, Grief, and Loss
Lifeline Australia is developing resources for workplaces to support the emotional wellbeing of employees and families after a sudden death, suicide, loss or disability. The program, which was implemented in a flood affected area of Queensland, aims to improve the knowledge and understanding of bereavement, grief and loss, including pathways to help-seeking and recovery. Increasing the understanding of these issues will contribute to the development of workplaces that support staff through periods of mental health risk, enabling them to stay connected.

Working Carers
Caring for a person with a mental illness or other illness or disability has its own set of challenges. Working with the construction sector, the Working Carerprogram aims to raise awareness of the role of someone who looks after a person with a mental illness or other illness or disability and the variety of people in this role. The program provides information and resources for employers to learn how to identify and support carers within their workplace and organisation, and provide options for greater support of their additional role as carer. It also provides resources for carers to help them through challenges and tough times.

Through the use of an engaging and interactive website that focuses on a team challenge, the teamtopia program educates employees about positive mental health and wellbeing. Implemented in the mining engineering sector, the project builds the capacity of both individuals and teams to engage in activities that promote and improve their wellbeing, resilience and connectedness. The expected result is that participants will see an improvement in their work related wellbeing, team and organisational relationships and group functioning.

SuperFit Mates
The SuperFit Mates pilot project worked with the maritime, service industry and retail sectors, to train workplace mentors to run mental health information sessions in the workplace, support their colleagues and encourage conversation about mental health issues and life challenges. These mentors act as approachable, supportive people in the workplace when an employee is facing mental health issues and life challenges. Each mentor is trained to take a pro-active approach to encourage and instigate conversations when it comes to their attention that someone may need support, while also raising awareness about mental health and mental illness

 Life Challenges and Changes
In the education sector, Mental Health@Work has developed the Life Challenges and Changes program to increase self-awareness and help seeking behaviours. The program focuses on building the capacity of individuals to cope and be resilient when experiencing significant life challenges and changes. It is expected that participants will not only build these skills in themselves, but will also develop the skills to identify and teach others how to better prepare for and cope with major life challenges.

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