An expert in post-traumatic stress disorder has urged Australian superannuation funds serving trauma-exposed industries to work closely with contributing employers to ensure their members receive adequate mental health education and training.

Neil Greenberg, a professor at King’s College London, tells Investment Magazine it is vital to encourage discussion in the industry about handling mental health and PTSD claims.

In June, Greenberg – a leading authority on PTSD and traumatic stress – was enlisted by life insurance giant TAL to improve the way its case managers, other associated partners and medical professionals handle traumatic stress claims. This includes working closely with the superannuation funds through which TAL provides group insurance.

“I strongly believe trauma-exposed organisations should not be swayed by well-intentioned interventions that don’t work,” Greenberg says. “[For example] psychological health screening methodologies [are ineffective], probably because employees are worried about the potential impact on their reputation and careers of providing truthful answers.”

He also suggests that insurers would benefit from working with their partners to conduct initial “organisation-level assessments” of their management practices, which would check whether the organisation provides adequate traumatic stress awareness training to all its recruits and whether that is reflected in current policies.

“For instance, in the UK, many emergency services make use of TRiM (trauma risk management) which is a highly researched and structured peer support system that proactively checks on the mental health of employees involved in traumatic events and ensures that those who need professional care or support get it. TRiM has been the subject of more than 10 scientific publications and part of its process is to keep sufficient records [showing] it has been used, or at least offered,” he says.

Evidence-based interventions

Greenberg, whose career spans more than 23 years in the British military, has worked in advisory roles with a range of trauma-exposed organisations, including British Government institutions following the London and Bali bombings.

He hopes that his partnership with TAL will encourage the insurance industry to use evidence-based interventions that include prevention and treatment measures, which would particularly benefit insurance companies servicing personnel in highly challenging roles such as policing, firefighting and other emergency services.

One of TAL’s group insurance clients that Greenberg has already started working with is First State Super, an $80 billion default fund for NSW Government employees, including police, ambulance and emergency services workers.

First State Super head of insurance, Sarina Aarons, says she is optimistic the collaboration with Greenberg will provide meaningful insights into how to improve the fund’s claims management processes.

“Professor Greenberg has helped us identify ways we can work collaboratively with our key partners to improve the levels of support we are able to offer to members,” Aarons says.

New mental health executive role

TAL head of mental health Glenn Baird says the partnership with Greenberg is just one of many the insurer expects to help it keep pace with evolving best medical practice for mental health management.

According to the latest figures, TAL paid $1.4 billion in claims last year, of which about $200 million was for mental health.

Baird, who was appointed to his newly created executive role in July, says the life insurance industry is under pressure and that it is vital that the industry offers comprehensive support that extends beyond just financial payouts.

“TAL has an integrated health proposition that aims to encourage the health and wellbeing of all,” Baird says. “We will achieve this through focus, collaboration and partnership with various experts, health organisations and support programs in the broader health system.”

Baird is a registered psychologist and a former director of SportsLife iQ, a support and counselling group for elite athletes. He says he will focus on reviewing TAL’s management of mental health claims to improve customer interactions across all areas within the company, including product design support, risk evaluation, prevention and claims management support initiatives.

“Mental health represents the second-largest category of claims, after cancer, and is a growing theme in society and in our customers’ lives,” Baird says. “Given the importance of both good mental health and the need to [provide prevention an support for] our customers, we believe we will be able to keep pace with changing risk stratification and mental health management models, allowing for improved ability to both insure and manage various types of mental health claims.”

He adds that diagnosing a mental health disorder is only one aspect of any claim and says that in following SuperFriend’s best-practice guidelines for mental health claims, TAL now employs “a biopsychosocial model” for case management, which looks at the factors that can affect customers.

 TAL is a platinum sponsor of the Investment Magazine Group Insurance Summit, to be held in Sydney on August 29, 2017. For more information, visit the event website.


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