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Accounting bodies unite to tackle mental health in small business

The government is providing a $2.24 million grant to train 5,000 accountants over the next two years to recognise and support their clients, employees and themselves in dealing with mental health issues.

Accounting bodies unite to tackle mental health in small business
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • November 09, 2020
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The Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) has awarded the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre a $2.24 million grant for its Supporting Small Business Advisors for Better Mental Health project, which will see the professional accounting bodies unite to promote mental health.

The Institute of Public Accountants (IPA), Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) and CPA Australia, are taking up the gauntlet in unison to ensure their members are equipped to recognise stressors among their clients, particularly SMEs, and to support them.

This project builds on last year’s $1 million grant through the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is developing the training material, and was achieved in collaboration between the professional accounting bodies, Deakin University, Beyond Blue, Mental Health First Aid Australia and WorkSafe Victoria.

“The government is making record investments in mental health services and support with expenditure estimated to be $5.7 billion this year alone. Small and family business are the lifeblood of our communities and the backbone of our economy, so it is crucial that they emerge from the pandemic in the best financial and emotional shape possible,” said Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash.

“We have committed $7 million to the BusinessBalance program, including $2.24 million in Deakin University and other stakeholders to train more than 4,000 accountants in mental health first aid to support their critical small business networks.

“The government is proudly partnering with Deakin University and professional accounting bodies to deliver this vital training that will change lives.”

Commenting also on the government’s recognition of an accountant’s central role in managing mental health issues among their SME clients, Kevin Dancey, CEO of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), said the grant is meaningful not just for members of the professional and SMEs, but for society more broadly.

“IFAC commends this collaborative effort to bring attention and significant funding to the issue of mental health,” said Mr Dancey.

“Australia is leading on this important work and setting a strong example for others to follow.”

Deakin vice-chancellor Professor Iain Martin welcomed the grant and said it recognised the numerous and significant mental health challenges that both business owners and accountants are currently facing because of the global pandemic.

“With a recent departmental study showing nearly one in three small-medium enterprise owners had identified a diagnosis in the last 12 months of either experiencing stress, depression or anxiety, now more than ever we must pay close attention to our mental wellbeing,” said Professor Martin.

“This crucial federal government grant will help fund the rollout of a sector-wide continuous professional development program for accountants and will be delivered by Australia’s three accounting professional bodies.

“The program will upskill accountants to provide mental health first aid to their small-medium enterprise clients. The project also provides an important avenue for the early identification, management, or prevention of various mental health conditions.”

A 2020 study commissioned by the DISER found that nearly one in three SME owners had identified that they had a diagnosis in the past 12 months of experiencing stress, depression, or anxiety, mostly related to financial issues and the impact of those stresses on family and personal life.

“Our combined research grant funding of over $3.24 million through the centre and insights gained through our members and the small business community highlight the significant challenges that SME owners are currently facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said IPA CEO Andrew Conway.

“By upskilling accountants, we believe there will be tremendous positive outcomes in supporting SME owners and ensuring they get the professional help as required. They are not there to play the role of professional health clinician, but they can be better equipped to point their SME client in that direction when required.”

CPA Australia CEO Andrew Hunter noted that the project comes at a critical time for the accounting profession.

“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, accountants have played a frontline role in helping individuals and businesses manage the economic fallout, and this has put them under enormous pressure. Mental health is a whole of industry issue and, more so than ever before, needs a collective approach which supports all our members,” Mr Hunter said.

Similarly, CA ANZ CEO Ainslie van Onselen applauded the grant.

“Mental health is a whole of society issue and as one of Australia’s most trusted professions accountants have a unique and vital role to play on the front line, Ms van Onselen said.

“Every day accountants see the huge impost that has taken place on their clients and this project will make a huge difference quickly.”

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