MCGORRY_patrick-WEB_photo-26_03Group insurers are paying out up to $200 million a year for mental illness claims and much of this could be prevented, according to Australian Of The Year and mental health advocate, Patrick McGorry.

Suicide, income protection, and total & permanent disability claims are just the tip of the iceberg in financial and social costs, says Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry (pictured).

He was speaking at a discussion convened by I&T News’ publisher, Conexus Financial, with CommInsure, NSW Health, major super funds, and Lifeline.

The conservative estimate of $200 million has been compiled by I&T News from two reports: IFSA’s “Working towards positive life insurance outcomes for mental health consumers” in late 2008, and SuperFriend’s submission to Community Affairs References Committee late last year.

According to Professor McGorry, suicide is the leading killer of Australians under 45, and the leading cause of disability in the country, with just-published (and revised up) figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that 2,054 killed themselves in 2007.

IFSA’s CEO, John Brogden – who is also a director of Lifeline Australia – said of the national ABS figures that “most suicides are preventable, and you can do something about it”.

The ABS figures hide a much larger figure of attempted suicides, says Lifeline Australia’s CEO, Dawn O’Neil. “There are 65,000 attempts a year, which is an average of 180 a day, or one every eight minutes,” she said.

She cited a successful campaign, “Read The Signs”, that Lifeline and MTAA Super Fund ran with the result that claims were 53 per cent lower in the 2004-2007 period compared with the previous nine years.

Damian Hill, CEO of REST, said that REST had trialled a preventive campaign with Woolworths some years ago, but had found “we couldn’t do it nationally as it very much depended on the store manager’s buy-in”.

He added that REST’s research showed that Australians trusted their super fund much more than they trusted banks, and so super funds and group insurers had a crucial role in lobbying government to allocate health funds to preventive and community intervention.

Professor McGorry recently launched the GetUp campaign to lobby the Federal Government about mental health care in the forthcoming Budget. Visit www.getup.org.au/health

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