'Accountants need to be trained in mental health first aid'
Given that mental health diseases like anxiety and depression are on the rise, the financial guidance provided by planners and accountants can go a long way in preventing and reducing distress, said Professor Andrew Noblet.
Speaking on the sidelines of the IPA Deakin Small Business: Big Vision conference in Melbourne this week, Professor Andrew Noblet from Deakin said that clients need accountants to be much more ambidextrous and versatile in the services they provide.
Professor Noblet, who heads the research into workplace mental health at Deakin University, said that accountants should focus on addressing a broader range of issues, which are not only causing operational problems for small businesses but are also incredibly stressful for their owners.
“Having an accountant who is much more ambidextrous and much more versatile in the services they can provide, and providing general guidance around problem solving, around strategic planning, around even workforce planning, someone who can do more than just the audit and compliance services, is incredibly valuable,” said Professor Noblet.
He explained that it is crucial for accountants to have specific knowledge in mental health.
“Accountants are often sitting across the table from a small business owner who is doing it tough, who is really struggling and mentally is having trouble keeping on top of things,” said Professor Noblet.
“That is where specialist knowledge in mental health first aid for example can be really important in being able to identify the signs and symptoms of someone who’s developing early anxiety or is in the early stages of depression.”
Mental health in the accounting curriculum
Asked whether mental health first aid should become a part of the accounting curriculum to ensure accountants are better equipped to respond to mental health issues faced by their clients, Professor Noblet said that anyone executing face-to-face human service work needs to have that sort of schooling.
“In the past we’ve seen human services such as doctors, nurses, police officers, teachers and certainly those people need that training around mental health literacy … But I think there is a really urgent need for mental health literacy training to be included in undergraduate and post-graduate accounting courses and law courses, and other courses where you have professionals interacting with the public,” he said.
Professor Noblet noted that there is a real opportunity here to ensure that someone who is showing signs of depression gets the treatment they need, early on.
Once they have that training, Professor Noblet said, “It’s just a natural extension of the service that’s being provided by the accountant to then go on and say ‘hey listen I know you’re doing it tough, if I was in your situation, I’d be feeling exactly the same. But there are people out there who can help you’.”