Industry head says many brokers have found 2021 more challenging than last year
In the five years since Peter White AM (pictured above) started a conversation with the industry around mental health, the dialogue has never been as strong as it has been this year. While 2020 went down as a tough year in most people’s books, the last few months of 2021 has proven to be an even more trying time for brokers impacted by lockdown.
“The longevity of this has taken an enormous strain on brokers’ mental health,” the FBAA managing director told MPA. “We’re all tired, we’re lethargic, we’re worn down by the process without being able to move around like we used to.”
While the industry “played around” with lockdown last year by organising Zoom drinks and other fun ways to stay connected, this time around, it has been much more difficult for people to cope, said White.
“It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, explaining that the myriad of challenges that come from lockdown, such as restricted movement, homeschooling and family related stress can all pile up until they become too much to bear. He has heard people lash out over the phone when they normally wouldn’t have - a sign of stress and strain from other areas of life manifesting in a professional setting.
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In 2016, White appointed himself awareness ambassador for mental wellness in the broking industry after seeing firsthand what depression and other mental illness could do.
“I had very dear friends who were very, very senior in our industry who were going through states of depression and struggling just to do simple business day to day activities,” he said. “They didn’t want to talk about it.
“I had brokers who were members of ours who were starting to get looked at and persecuted by lenders with questions put over their accreditations because they were in hospital suffering from depression - everything was put under a question mark.
“I could see all of this going on together with my wife who suffers from depression. I’m a stepfather to a special needs stepdaughter and that creates a lot of stress in our household. I could see personally firsthand what people go through with depression, as well as what I was seeing in my colleagues and friends, so I wanted to do something about it.”
White also suffers from severe anxiety, something he has spoken openly about as part of his efforts to break the taboo of mental illness in the industry.
This year, while there has been a surge in mental health concerns across the industry and wider society through the pandemic, the conversation around this has become normalised – a change that has brought much satisfaction to White given his work in the space over the years.
“Back in 2016, this was the most taboo subject on the planet,” he said. “No-one would talk about it. If you did, you were scared of persecution. Today, it’s a very common, very normalised conversation in the industry. Most of the aggregator groups are doing something regarding mental health in conjunction with RUOK Day as well in a significant fashion.”
The FBAA is also set to host an RUOK Day event on September 09. Despite the annual day increasing awareness around reaching out to those who are struggling, a lot of people still don’t know the best way to do this, he said.
“I think there is still a bit of a journey to understand how you help,” he said.
Rather than asking someone directly if they are OK, it is often better to just get together with them for a virtual coffee if you can’t meet face to face and have a chat.
“Don’t go and dive bomb them and go, how are you going with depression?” said White. “Just talk about the world, don’t mention anything specific and if they want to talk about it, sit there and listen to what they have to say. Be aware that there are professional counselling services there for everyone.
“A person who is having problems will reveal that once they can trust you with that conversation.”