About one in five people will suffer, over the course of their lifetime, a meaningful destabilising mental condition. While the human costs of mental illness are horrendous, the financial burden on society is also significant. One estimate is that suicide alone, which is the fourthmost- common stated cause of death, costs the life insurance industry about $100 million a year.

About one in 10 death claims on industry funds is from suicide, although the figure for some funds may be significantly higher. According to CommInsure, the average figure for its policies is one in 13 deaths from suicide. The highest-risk members tend to be young, male and, often, from a rural or regional area. Insurance through super funds generally has a long tail. The payouts for younger members on death will be significantly higher than for older members, given the same number of units of cover. So, when younger members die, they have higher payouts and have had less time to make contributions via premiums.

Super funds, particularly not-for-profit funds, have been looking to address the problem through a program called Super Friend, which is an initiative from a special trust set up by Industry Funds Forum, the Mental Health Foundation.

Last December CommInsure, which is the largest sponsor of Super Friend, sponsored a special roundtable of medical practitioners and superannuation industry representatives to discuss the issues surrounding mental health. It was organised by Conexus Financial, publisher of Investment & Technology.

This is the first in a series of mental health roundtables sponsored by CommInsure. Participants at the roundtable were:

• Professor Gordon Parker, director of psychiatry, Prince of Wales Hospital, and an expert on mood disorders

• Dr Alex Wodak, director of alcohol and drug service at St Vincent’s Hospital and activist for the needle exchange program and non-law-enforcement programs for addressing the drug problem

• Graham Long, pastor, Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s King’s Cross

• Simon Swanson, managing director, CommInsure

• Michael Back, head of wholesale risk, CommInsure

• Helen Hewett, executive officer, Industry Funds Forum

• Greg Staunton, director, group risk, IFS Insurance Broking

• Damian Hill, chief executive, REST, and chair of the Industry Funds Forum Mental Health Foundation

• Paul Watson, deputy chief executive, ARIA, former deputy chief executive, MTAA Super

• Ian Morante, fund secretary, Nationwide Super

• Bernard O’Conner, assistant chief executive, Non-Government Schools Superannuation Fund

• Greg Bright, Colin Tate and Stephen Shore, from Conexus Financial. (Colin Tate is also a director of Wayside Chapel.)

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