Expert calls for suicide research into advice industry

A leading suicide expert is urging advice industry associations to initiate research into whether regulatory change has influenced mental health and suicides.

Speaking to Money Management, David Crompton OAM, professor of mental health research at Griffith University, called for industry-backed research and a research-based, suicide prevention and support program.

His comments followed Infocus chief executive, Darren Steinhardt’s, anecdote that he knew of eight advisers directly who had died by suicide linked to quick moving legislation and the disruption it had caused to their lives.

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Crompton said: “It is difficult to determine why people choose to die by suicide and that there are many factors influencing that such as age, family situations, history of mental illness but the fact that people are raising this as a problem means it should be critically evaluated.

“The first part is that there needs to be a better evaluation of the notion of ‘have there been suicides related to the changes that has happened [to] financial planning following the Royal Commission and other things that have occurred’.”

He said research was required as “you never quite know” whether anecdotal material is correct and because he was unaware of any studies into the advice industry.

“It is the way much of this stuff commences, that people have an anecdotal view around something and what you’re facing is people are stressed… [and] their lives are being affected by regulatory changes,” Crompton said.

“And my understanding is there has been quite a number of people who have dropped out of the business.

“All these things are going to have a high degree of impact on their lives, and some will adapt and some won’t but you have to consider that.”

He pointed to two studies he was involved with which looked into data from 20 countries and found suicides had decreased since COVID-19 in most jurisdictions despite media painting a different picture.

Crompton said the best way to research the problem was through a ‘time series analysis’ which looked at changes over time as raw data on suicides would not show the full picture.

An online questionnaire could be one way to quantitatively investigate the problem and could be conducted through an online survey of people in the industry and their families at different points in time, said Crompton.

Crompton said an additional qualitative evaluation would add value to the study and could be undertaken through interviews of a smaller randomised selection of advisers at separate points in time. It would directly target how people were coping through open ended lines of questioning.

He said it would be relatively inexpensive and estimated it to cost between $100,000 and $125,000.

One challenge he highlighted was that only Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales had suicide registers for research purposes with more states to follow.

He said a study would need to investigate what has been the clinical change in the mental health of advisers and their families and would need to remove other factors such as COVID-19.

Crompton supported the idea of establishing a research-based, suicide prevention and support program akin to ‘Mates in Construction’.

In that example, the Workers Compensation Board of Queensland noted that a number of claims were coming in from the wives of tradesmen who had died by suicide.

This led to the establishment of Mates in Construction which monitored mental health in the industry, provided training to new employees on mental health and created a ‘mateship’ program where new employees could seek support from a designated person on the worksite.

“So you get an idea of what the problem is, then develop a strategy for it and then implement something to address the problems and then go back and have a look and see if it is making a difference,” he said.

He said the industry should address the issue that smaller firms and sole traders might not have a mental health framework to reach out to.

“When you implement changes, you’ve also got to take into consideration what the impact of that is,” he said.

Crompton said he had a broad range of connections across the country’s universities who, with support and co-operation from industry bodies, could work towards a better mental health framework in the advice industry.

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This is a great idea. We should all support this.

I also think this is a good idea. While we all know there has been a spike in Adviser suicides since and during the introduction of new legislation, we cannot be sure even of the severity of the problem, despite even one being too many.

If Covid has (in general) slowed down the rates of suicides, then it makes this research even more important due to the increased incidence in our industry.

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