Working on wellbeing

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Working on wellbeing

bending bending
James Mitchell 6 minute read

It can be difficult to make time for self-care when you’re running your own business. Diet, exercise and rest are easily overlooked when we’re locked into a pattern of compulsive busyness. But is success worth your wellbeing?

At the end of 2017, Momentum Media, the publisher of The Adviser, launched a new online platform: Wellness Daily. Every day the platform publishes unique stories, tips and profiles designed to encourage all working Australians to find a better way of living.

But what exactly do we mean by wellness? According to behavioural change expert Dr Bob Murray, there are four measures of wellness (see boxout on page 18), and we are getting less well in all of them.

Dr Murray is the principal of Sydney-based consulting firm Fortinberry Murray. A scientist and psychologist, he studies the biological and psychological underpinnings of human behaviour and strives to take practical lessons from the vast body of research that has recently been done in the fields of biological psychiatry, behavioural neurogenetics, neuroscience and other related fields.

“We know so much more about the kind of creatures we are now than we knew, say, 10 years ago, and we literally find out more every day,” Mr Murray says. “The interesting thing that almost all new research shows us is that the indices of wellness are pointing downward.”


The longevity myth

Many believe that we are becoming physically healthier purely because we are living longer. But according to Dr Murray, this is a flawed argument. “Longevity doesn’t necessarily equal physical health,” the scientist says. “It’s true that over the past 100 years, our life span has gone from an average of 48.4 years to almost 80 in the US and other Western countries.

“But this may now be reversing, and in a number of them, this metric is falling off — the longevity of the average American, for example, is actually declining. Much of this is due to the evils of increased opioid use, suicide among white middle-class men and women, and a rise in the rate of heart disease and obesity, especially among the young.”

Mental health and workplace stress Mental health is also declining. According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians aged 16 to 85 will experience a mental illness in any year. However, more than half of them do not seek any treatment. Fresh efforts are being made to address this issue.

In October, the Mental Health and Insurance Green Paper was released by the Actuaries Institute, identifying that the insurance sector faces “systemic difficulties” dealing with mental health coverage. The Green Paper was launched by Lucy Brogden, co-chair of the government’s National Mental Health Commission, who has said that it will be a valuable resource for future work around planned reforms for the private health insurance sector.

Dr Murray believes that a rapid increase in mental illness over the last 30 years is related to workplace stress. He points to a study by the Hudson Institute, a futurist think tank founded by Herman Kahn, which has shown that, between 2010 and 2020, work stress will have increased by 200 per cent.

“Autism is on the increase as are post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.

Studies have shown that something like 80 per cent of all visits to doctors’ surgeries and an almost equal number of hospital admissions can be put down to problems which have no biological origin.”

Finance has one of the highest rates of depression

According to Pedro Diaz, a world-leading authority on workplace mental health and founder of the Workplace Mental Health Institute, 50 per cent of people will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life.

“This is a big number and it means that many of us are struggling to deal with things that are happening in our life,” Mr Diaz says.

“The major part of our work is going into organisations and teaching management how to communicate effectively so the mental health of the workforce is improved, protected and immunised.”

Some industries have higher levels of mental illness than others. Mr Diaz says that the financial services sector has one of the highest rates of depression in Australia

“About 33 per cent of people in the finance industry have been identified as potentially having depression,” the authority says. “That’s huge compared to the national average of 6.4 per cent.

“We need the finance industry, but there are certain parts of it that are questionable in terms of the psychological reward for workers.” Mr Diaz explains that while many people working in the finance industry are well paid, they don’t often see the results of their work.

“If you were a farmer and growing wheat, you can watch it grow and be processed into flour and then see the flour be made into bread. There is a tangible series of events that can give you satisfaction.

“When you are dealing with finance, it can be hard, because what are you creating? We need to know that what we do matters.”

Several players in the finance industry have been taking steps to bring mental health and wellbeing front of mind. In 2017, the FBAA hosted a PD day focusing solely on mental health issues (corresponding with R U OK? Day), and Home Loan Connexion founder and broker Tracy Kearey launched a new wellbeing and mental health program for her brokers.

Spiritual health: What is it?

Perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of wellness, spirituality is often mistaken for religion or, more simply, mindfulness and meditation.

While meditation and mindfulness have become more popular in recent years, Dr Murray says that, overall, our spiritual health is on the decline. “We are hard-wired both in our genome and in our neurobiology for spirituality,” the scientist says. “In order to be mentally healthy, we need to have a sense of the transcendent.”

Dr Bob Murray explains the four facets of wellness.

This is not just the absence of biological disease but also the challenges to our fitness and longevity brought on by lifestyle choices or circumstances.

This is more than not having a particular psychiatric disorder; it’s also the amount of stress that we’re under which can have powerful negative effects on our psychic and physical immune system.

Perhaps the most neglected aspect of wellness. This is not just the decline of religion but a whole range of aspects of our DNA and our neurophysiology which concern with not just belief but the ability to meditate, to be “mindful”, to switch off­ from the stress of the world — to lose ourselves in something other than ourselves. We have become a society of narcissists and materialists, which is the opposite of what we were designed to be.

We are social beings, relationship-forming animals. Our genetics dictate that we must have certain kinds of relationships in order to be “well” in any sense of the word. We need to belong to a mutually supportive tribe in order to really feel safe. And without safety, there can be no wellness for a human being.

[Related: Tracy Kearey on mentoring, mental health and management]

Working on wellbeing
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James Mitchell

James Mitchell

James Mitchell has over eight years’ experience as a financial reporter and is the editor of Wealth and Wellness at Momentum Media.

He has a sound pedigree to cover the business of mortgages and the converging financial services sector having reported for leading finance titles InvestorDaily, InvestorWeekly, Accountants Daily, ifa, Mortgage Business, Residential Property Manager, Real Estate Business, SMSF Adviser, Smart Property Investment, and The Adviser.

He has also been published in The Daily Telegraph and contributed online to FST Media and Mergermarket, part of the Financial Times Group.

James holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature and an MA in Journalism.


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