This is the third in a series of roundtables sponsored by CommInsure, organised in conjunction with Conexus and Industry Funds Forum (IFF), in which members of the superannuation and insurance industries explore how they might make a tangible difference in reducing the incidence of psychiatric disorders. According to the mental health professionals, research and early intervention is critical. Super funds discuss the success of their workplace programs in reducing the number of suicide claims, and how they juggle their obligations to the sole purpose test. There is also discussion on how the industry might mobilise its lobbying power, to get government attention to initiatives like Professor Stan Catts’ Australian Psychosis Research Network.

Participants at the roundtable were:

Professor Stan Catts, professor of community psychiatry, School of Medicine at the University of Queensland

Helen Hewett, executive director, Industry Funds Forum

Michael Back, head of wholesale risk, CommInsure

Donald Patrick McDonald, life governor, Schizophrenia Research Institute

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

Kimon Kouryialas, head of distribution, Legg Mason Asset Management

Greg Staunton, director, group risk, IFS Insurance Broking

Frank Crapis, executive wholesale product manager, CommInsure

Peter Rowe, general manager, business operations, Vision Super

Michael O’Sullivan, chairman, Care Super

Alix Sachinidis, director, AMWU vehicle division, and MTAA Super

Carol McKelson-Timmins, manager of operations, Health Super • Greg Bright, publisher, Conexus Financial

Stephen Shore, journalist, Conexus Financial

Stan Catts: The first problem we have is that 20 per cent of young people experience a mental health problem; usually as some type of anxiety or depression. Half of those go on to become chronically disabled for a lifetime, and a further third will develop a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia or bi-polar.

Research is targeted on the psychotic disorders because they’re the extreme end of it, but they’re part of a spectrum of disorders that have a lot of overlap with each other. The next problem is that the public mental health services are in crisis.

There’s an ever-increasing demand and not enough cures to process it. Psychiatry is 20 years behind the rest of medicine in terms of science. Research and services in particular for psychotic disorders are really a shamefully neglected area.

So what can be done? Investment in services without research is a waste. It’s just throwing money at a problem rather than a solution. We need to act in relation to research. But simply doing more research is not enough to defeat such complex conditions. And in the early 2000s, leading Australian scientists and clinicians in the field decided to meet and pool their best ideas to see how it could be fast tracked. How the whole process could be almost leapfrogged into the 21st century. The proposal they came up with was the Australian Psychosis Research Network. It represents a world’s first; a national, translational research initiative for schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders.

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