More than half of all Australian employees are now being offered access to mental health assistance through their superannuation schemes. Superfriend, the charitable organisation established to reduce the rate of suicide in the Australian population, has been front and centre in providing resources to super funds addressing mental health.

The organisation recently increased its number of member funds from 15 to 17, a figure dominated by not-for-profit industry-wide superannuation funds. These funds cover 6.6 million employees representing 58 per cent of or 11.4 million Australian employees.

Margo Lydon, chief executive of Superfriend, said that around 20-25 per cent of death in service claims were due to suicide.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Friday show that suicide is the fifteenth leading cause of all deaths, but that over three-quarters (76.0 per cent) of people who died by suicide were male, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death for males.

“This is a really significant issue for the insurers, the administrator and the funds,” said Lydon. “Mental illness claims are the most costly and they are the most complex to administer. These are real challenges for their businesses and we know [the rate of suicide] is going up.”

All-round benefits

Improvements made by employers and funds in the way they looked after the mental health of their staff would ultimately benefit all members.

“If we can ultimately reduce the claims or the duration of claims coming through around mental illness and death where the cause of death is suicide, that is going to help the whole pool of members financially, as well as from an ethical and societal aspect,” she said.

Lydon hopes Superfriend will have the same impact on suicide rates as the national campaigns aimed at reducing deaths caused by dangerous driving.

Superfriend helps provides access to mental illness care by creating advertisements for super fund members and by providing super fund staff with training in how to converse with members who are distressed or at risk of suicide. It also provides articles for member newsletters, with many of these resources being channelled from organisations such as Work Sane Australia, Lifeline Australia, Mental Health At Work and the R U OK? Foundation.

The latter organisation is dedicated to encouraging regular meaningful conversations between family, friends and community members to prevent suicide.

It has a national “day of action” on the second Thursday of September (September 12, 2013), with the reminder to check in regularly with family and friends.

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