By Mark Leopold, (previously SuperFriend's Head of Policy & Strategic Alliances)

Building a bridge to effective mental health and suicide prevention.

If 2020 has shown us anything, it is the importance of compassion, community, and connection. They are the underlying foundations of society that weave us together and unite us.

  • Compassion. The dictionary defines it as “Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” A simple summary, yet for many this is a complicated and difficult trait to embrace, as we struggle to show we ‘care’. Is this a trait you have? For me, compassion does not come easily. Not because I don’t care but instead, because it is risky. Risky in the sense that it invites a level of openness and vulnerability that we might not be comfortable with.

  • Community-minded. Defined as, “Interested in helping the wider community; socially concerned.” Do you feel this within your neighbourhood and social networks? Perhaps you have felt it more than ever recently, or maybe for you it has waned. If I am completely honest, I am selfish at heart so this is another rather difficult mindset for me to master. However, I am getting better at understanding the power of putting community first, appreciating what a difference it can make. I remember my favourite tutor at university, Geoff Drummond, noting how hard it was not to think of yourself. Geoff asked the room of eager students “Try giving without expectation; without wanting to be appreciated for the gift you give.” A beautiful description of a strong community. Think about it, could you give a gift, even if the receiver was to never know it was from you? That is what you do, when you contribute to society and give unconditionally, without expectation.

  • Connection. Being a connector. Connecting people. Well…. that I am! I love the description: ‘Connecting and working with a broad array of people and organisations to draw upon their diversity of expertise and thought to achieve better outcomes’. The ability to make mutually beneficial and productive connections is something of a strength. However, this isn’t just about two or a few people connecting; it is about establishing interlinked networks that bring us all together.

If we accept that compassion, community, and connection are central tenets of a healthy, high-functioning society, how can we apply this thinking to workplaces?

How Australian workplaces can be part of the solution

Compassionate leadership and recognising its place in ‘community’ is critical. Done well, it drives business performance and strengthens social and professional networks, building stronger and resilient teams. Yet it is so much bigger than the workplace. If you want results at work, you need to integrate wellbeing strategies into all aspects of life – home, work and play.

Recent reports from both the Productivity Commission and National Mental Health Commission made it clear that compassion and community are critical for improving peoples’ mental health outcomes. An area both reports explore is how we can expand mental health support beyond a clinical, health-system-focussed-lens, looking instead to broader, more accessible support designed to prevent illness and keep people well.

They promote the critical need to think differently about prevention and early intervention, highlighting the important role workplaces can play.

If the recommendations in these reports are adopted, Governments will create the frameworks and policy to enable inter-connected services. This all sounds great, but it still requires each of us be part of the change. The health system cannot do it alone, nor can any individual or organisation. We must connect and play our part in the solution.

Compassion, community and connection in super and insurance

I work in a mental health organisation founded by industry super funds and group insurers. One of the areas I have watched with interest is how insurers balance a strong member focus with risk and commercial pragmatism. How do insurers manage risk in the context of mental ill-health? How do they contribute to a person’s recovery while managing risk but not exacerbating a situation?

SuperFriend is proud to be working alongside its insurer partners to enable good people to make better decisions through education, training and advocacy. This also means supporting our partners to take a more granular approach to risk – better understanding individual circumstances, treatment and management. Compassionate leadership coupled with more inclusive products will create even deeper connections to customers and communities.

Supporting vulnerable populations is a challenge for both business and society. Insurance and superannuation businesses are no different. We will be well served if we take compassionate lens, play our role in developing more inclusive products and services, communicate more effectively with those in need, and connect people to services that enable recovery.

It’s a journey

What does this mean for those of us, who struggle with one or more of the three – compassion, connection or community?

Personally, life’s road continues to wind around many corners – some planned, some not. My own experience with mental health and wanting to better manage my own anxiety drives many of my actions.

I, personally, struggle with two of the three boxes of compassion, community and connection. Yet, the closer I come to understanding them and ‘living’ them – to living a ‘contributing life’ - the less stressed and more satisfied I become.

So often we are confronted with black and white ideas with no middle ground, but there is so much colour in those in-between spaces. It’s where I now live or try too. That said, change is not my superpower; for me it is hard and slow. I continue to take steps because each time I give more to others, the better I feel.

The path to a more positive, better society is a shared responsibility. As is the path the better mental health. We all have a role to play and using the ‘three Cs’ is a practical place to start.