How mental health factors into financial services

Rob Prugue,  Columnist,  No More Practice Education

Late one evening back on the 15th of October 2015, I received a text informing me of the unexpected death of a friend. On phoning for more information, I was told how my friend died of suicide. Losing one friend unexpectedly to suicide is bad enough, but this was my fifth in one year; none related, different genders, backgrounds, and even continents. Five friends lost to suicide in under twelve months.

Losing a friend to suicide seems much more personal than say losing one to illness or perhaps even an accident. This is possibly due to its often immediate and unexpected nature, let alone a feeling of “what if?”

Such question often supersedes the memory of the lost friend/family, leaving one to wonder if there was something I could have or should have done. We live in a world where when something is not working, society has taught us to “fix it”, or at least attempt to.


Unlearning stigmas

But it was only after such a reflection that I sadly realised how my own naivety and stigmatic beliefs were themselves a hindrance on engaging and providing help.

However well-intentioned I may have been, a fear of being unable to assist, or worse, “trigger” my friends made me feel disempowered and distant. What little I knew, however, cast a cloud of uncertainty and distance.

Like many of us trying to understand the unknown, I decided to immerse myself in educating myself about suicide, depression, anxiety, and other mental health matters. While I knew that I’d never be considered an expert on this subject, I nonetheless wanted to educate myself so as to both unlearn the stigmatic beliefs and feel empowered to engage and be present for others.

But the deeper I went on this educational journey, the more uncomfortable I was becoming.

I read experts encouraging me to ask family/friends struggling with depression, “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” I was floored: surely asking such a confronting question would be dangerous, even triggering? It seemed completely counterintuitive. Surely this was a mistake. But then I read this again, and then again, and yet another time.

I was so utterly perplexed that I phoned friends who were trained experts on suicide awareness, and all agreed. As one trained friend said, “If the thought of suicide is already there, all you’ve done was to bring it out to the open. And while you won’t necessarily ‘fix’ there depression, your having asked them means that they can one day turn to you.”


Developing empathy

My feeling disempowered made more sense to me now. My being unsure as to what to do or say was my issue, not theirs. While clearly the journey towards recovery was theirs alone, having family/friends present by their side, empathetically encouraging rather than sympathetically fixing them, will do more to help than my stigmatic fear of doing/saying something triggering. Mental health’s greatest obstacle is this socially outdated stigma; this irrational feeling that we shouldn’t intrude or engage out of our own fear of making it worse.

Education is key, albeit not necessarily a university degree course, in empowering us to engage. The objective in using education clearly isn’t to roll out therapists, but to use education as a mechanism to unlearn our inherent stigmatic beliefs which can often restrain us from engaging with those struggling with mental health issues.

And given this stigmatic belief is more prevalent for those who aren’t struggling with depression/anxiety, it makes perfect sense to open discussion and educate this group as, more often than not, this is where the stigma is most prevalent.

While addressing suicide awareness benefits the broader community, for those of us in financial services, suicide has an added professional impact.


How does mental health affect financial services?

With suicide now the number one killer for males aged between 15 to 45, and with suicide deaths rising noticeably over the last ten years, all too often super payouts are done outside actuarial retirement objectives.

There are many super funds who payout a handful of times each week due to suicide, while some super funds with a large exposure to the rural community often seeing periods when payouts due to suicide exceed that due to normal retirement cycles.

Contrary to stigmatic beliefs, in the eye of those struggling, suicide is their attempt to relieve their families from their perceived burden and shame on their loved ones. As such, all too often suicides are well planned and calculated, with many wanting to leave the legal and financial paperwork already done so they impose even less on their loved ones.

It is not too uncommon for those with suicidal thoughts to reach out to their planners, their super fund, or their accountants and asking about life insurance and will, ahead of any other usual question regarding the upkeep of their circumstances.


A course to help you reach out

Back in November 2016, my friends and I launched an education campaign called PROP, or People Reaching Out to People. Working with experts on suicide awareness, PROP brings together a plain English ten-minute, four-part tutorial on mental health; e.g., how to identify, how to engage, and how to direct to those who are best qualified to assist our family and friends who may be struggling.

Unlike other valuable educational material on suicide awareness, PROP’s four-part tutorial is directed at those 4 out of 5 who are not struggling with mental health. Chances are the stigmatic beliefs are more visible within this healthy group than with those who are struggling with depression/anxiety.

This four-part tutorial is freely available by registering through Each week educational material will be sent out, taking no more than ten minutes to read through. Once the four-part education tutorial is done, PROP asks people to help us spread this initiative by sending on registration material to those whom they feel would benefit from this four-part tutorial.

The idea is to use email and social media to help spread our shared goal of using education to address this stigma around mental health and suicide awareness.

Aside from our web page, we would encourage you to equally follow and help us promote our social pages on Facebook and LinkedIn, under “PROP, People Reaching Out to People”. Join our community, one which hopes that through our increased awareness we can do more to stem this silent killer within our broader community.

The opinions expressed in this content are those of the author shown, and do not necessarily represent those of No More Practice Education Pty Ltd or its related entities. All content is intended for a professional financial adviser audience only and does not constitute financial advice. To view our full terms and conditions, click here.

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