With financial services staff often on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, as mental health issues increase with the latest round of lockdowns, it’s important that businesses actively engage with employees to reduce stigma around mental illness, a former funds management CEO has said.
Data from new industry initiative People Reaching Out to People (PROP) revealed that calls to Lifeline’s 24-hour suicide prevention service had jumped 25 per cent in the first two weeks of Sydney’s lockdown, with an even larger increase when Melbourne’s fifth lockdown was announced.
PROP founder and former Lazard Asset Management chief executive Rob Prugue said the ongoing effects of the pandemic on Australians’ mental health could also have flow-on impacts to financial services employees.
“The financial services industry is often at the front line, as the number of superannuation funds needing to close accounts or pay out insurance policies due to suicide is staggering,” Mr Prugue said.
“Aside from this, some may be surprised that as an industry alone, many of the participants are themselves beholden to anxiety and depression given the financial responsibility undertaken in guiding our clients through the tumultuous market and economy. This responsibility often weighs heavy with many advisers.”
Mr Prugue said the impact of lockdowns on employee mental health was acute, with most indicating that they would like to continue in-office work for several days a week despite most firms now offering a more flexible approach to working from home.
“Lockdowns impede the everyday face-to-face interactions, which can help us when we are down. After all, we’re all social animals, and lockdowns can sadly have ancillary effects on our mental wellbeing,” he said.
Mr Prugue said the financial services sector had taken positive steps in recent years to manage workplace mental health issues, including rolling out training sessions on the warning signs to look for.
A key focus for the next phase of industry training was helping to reduce the stigma involved in suffering from mental health problems, with PROP rolling out a free tutorial for industry that looked at “unlearning stigmatic beliefs around mental health”.
“Our belief is that we as individuals can make a difference with those who may be struggling with mental health matters. We do this not by our ingrained belief that we need to offer solutions and answers, but in being present and empathetic as our family, friends or clients find proper medical help and therapy,” Mr Prugue said.
If this article raises any emotional or psychological issues for you, you can utilise the below resources:
Lifeline, 13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service, 1300 659 467, www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
MensLine Australia, 1300 78 99 78, www.mensline.org.au
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