Economic benefits for investing in mental health
Part 1 event insights from an FSC and KMPG mental health session
By Prue Roberts
The Financial Services Council partnered with KPMG and Mental Health Australia for a members-only event in late October to discuss the ‘Investing to save’ report, a research piece that outlines a number of economic benefits for the investment in mental health reform.
The report highlights three core areas for action:
- Support individuals with mental health issues to gain and maintain employment, and maintain the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.
- Minimise avoidable emergency department presentations and hospitalisations.
- Invest in promotion, prevention and early intervention.
KPMG Australia’s Jane Dorter, Andrew Dempster, Chris Schilling and Richard Yee, along with Josh Fear from Mental Health Australia, discussed the key findings from the report with an engaged audience of insurance industry and mental health sector professionals.
Jane Dorter, KPMG’S Director - Actuarial & Financial Risk, opened the event by commenting that the report, developed by KPMG and Mental Health Australia, delivers an independent perspective in presenting economic evidence that can lead to large health gains. She added that the report differs from other that have come before, looking at the current mental health system with an economic lens that considers ‘dominant intervention’ viewpoints in further detail.
Jane Dorter then set the scene with some statistics on mental health’s economic impact - which currently sits at an estimated total of $60 billion a year in Australia. And at an individual level, a person with severe mental health has an average of 42 days off work - in addition to normal sick leave - which costs the state economy almost $1.5 billion a year.
Chris Schilling, Associate Director - Economics, KPMG, provided some productivity figures that put mental health’s scale of impact on the workforce into perspective. As such, mild mental health cases can reduce productivity by 4 per cent, and severe experiences up to 9 per cent in reduction – and those persons are also five times more likely to have more days off work.
In acknowledging the stakeholders in the room, Josh Fear, Director - Policy and Projects, Mental Health Australia, said, “The mental health and insurance sectors share common interests, especially on lowering risks – not only when someone is a policy holder, but also before someone becomes a policy holder. And that might be as early as someone’s childhood years.”
“The mental health and the insurance sectors are better at thinking about risk than other stakeholders, and there are many more ways we could partner and understand those risks together. Lower risk at a population level, and we can improve productivity and the participation agenda from a mental health point of view.”
Increase early intervention opportunities
With a spin cycle of primary, secondary and tertiary interventions at play in today’s world, the speakers took the opportunity to promote the report’s findings around what some small-scale early intervention opportunities can deliver.
Andrew Dempster, Director - Health, Ageing and Human Services, KPMG, explained what initial intervention done at a micro-level in the workplace can achieve, “First intervention is so practical and simple, it’s quite remarkable what the evidence shows around how this impacts future job control.
“Practically, people having the ability to see a framework for the tasks they do in relation to what’s reasonable within the scope of the role and in connection with the individual’s expertise seems obvious – but involving individuals in discussions about these parameters, setting up the right systems and timeframes for achieving goals makes for significant outcomes.
“There may not be massive changes in depression and anxiety rates across the board, but this is early and positive intervention that’s actually very low cost - or even no cost - that every workplace could start initiating tomorrow.”
He added that, “Training and education is also key – and should be largely focused around cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and resilience, plus mental health literacy training, particularly focused on team leaders and managers.
“When (leaders) can really lift their own expertise and understanding on mental illness identification, as well as having confident conversations about connecting people and referring people on for services, there are many strong positive outcomes. And interestingly enough, even though it’s not a focus of their training, mental health improvements in depression and anxiety rates can be seen in the leaders themselves.”
Chris Schilling referenced some report insights that drew on some global conclusions with regards to early intervention and employment earnings. In the UK and US, longitudinal studies have shown the vast differences in what 40-50 years of lifetime earnings of children who had mental illness were compared and those who were not affected.
“There were huge discrepancies in family household income between these groups – in 2010 it was about $300,000 – which in today’s terms translates to $600,000 or more income differential over a lifetime.”