This is the first time I’ve shared this story. I’m one of five kids in a big, loving family from Far North Queensland.
When I was a teenager, I remember my parents talking to me about my younger brother, Tim. Tim struggled with what I now know as depression.
But at the time, I didn’t really understand what that was, or what my parents really meant. I thought my brother was just acting out and looking for attention, so I used to trivialise the situation. Looking back, I think I was quite cynical about it all.
The reality was, Tim fought with his mental health for a long time. He had good days and bad days. But when he was 19, Tim reached a point where he felt that taking his own life in our family home was the best thing for him and those he loved.
My brother’s death caused me immense guilt; guilt that I carry to this day. Because I didn’t understand his suffering, I wasn’t able to help him.
What it has done though is make me determined to never let ignorance or apathy get in the way of helping someone with something this important again.
Losing Tim sparked a lifelong pursuit around mental health - to hunt it down, bring it to light, and make a difference with whatever tools or influence I have.
And through this pursuit, the things I’ve been able to achieve in the mental health space are some of the proudest and most humbling moments I’ve had in my career. That’s how much it means to me.
The power of stories
At the Commonwealth Bank, we recognise wellbeing starts from the inside out; in other words, with our people. So, we do our best to listen.
One of the most consistent messages we hear is that when it comes to mental health, stories really matter. The more we talk about it; the more people start to speak up and the more it’s normalised.
Of the more than 1,400 articles we have created for our wellbeing portal, by far the most impactful are the stories about wellbeing and mental health shared by our most courageous employees.
The other thing we hear is that it’s hard to neatly separate work stresses and life stresses. Our people want to know that we care about them as a whole person, so whether they need help with things that originate from work or from home, there is no barrier to their ability to come to us for help.
To do this, we have support available for a range of issues that typically wouldn’t be considered ‘work-related’. For example, what to do if you are experiencing domestic violence at home, talking to teenagers about suicide, struggling as a minority, finding yourself in financial hardship, or experiencing the death of a loved one.
A tipping point
When you genuinely care about mental wellbeing, you have a responsibility to expose yourself to new ideas, new ways of thinking and working. You also have a responsibility to make an impact.
At the Commonwealth Bank, we have over 50,000 employees and many more alumni around the world. We also serve millions of customers in thousands of communities, so our ability to lift awareness of mental health in the workplace is immense.
And it’s even greater now we have joined Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia. Because whatever you can achieve on your own, it is only ever amplified when you are part of something bigger.
So together, by sharing ideas, giving freely and learning from each other as part of the Alliance, we have the potential to create a tipping point in the way Australian companies look after their people.
Andrew Culleton, Executive General Manager Group People Services, Commonwealth Bank of Australia
Board Member, Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia