INTHEBLACK Mental Health Special Edition - Flipbook - Page 9
Mental Health and Wellbeing
P U B L I C P R A C T I C E // P R A C T I C E M A N A G E M E N T
to listen to
role as a
THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED ECONOMIC TIMES, AND SMALL
B U S I N E S S E S A R E S U F F E R I N G . A C C O U N TA N T S A R E N O T
M E N TA L H E A LT H P R O F E S S I O N A L S , B U T T H E R E A R E T H I N G S
THEY CAN DO TO SUPPORT THEIR CLIENTS.
STORY NICOLA HEATH
AT A GLANCE
This year, small
a pandemic and
8 ITB October 2020
but there is much
they can do to help
their SME clients.
watching out for
signs of distress.
In order to help
their clients through
these difficult times,
must first look
after their own
This year has brought about a series of nasty
surprises. The combined effects of bushfires,
floods, a pandemic and subsequent economic
crisis has meant that, by the second quarter,
Australia was in the grip of a recession no one
could have predicted six months earlier.
In July, the unemployment rate hit 7.5 per cent,
up from 5.1 per cent in February (in August it fell
slightly to 6.8 per cent). In the April-May period,
more than 920,000 organisations and about
3.5 million individuals applied for the JobKeeper
payment, and, as of 23 June, the Australian
Government had already paid out more than
A$20 billion under the scheme.
What will happen to these businesses when
the JobKeeper scheme ends in March 2021 is
uncertain. Some businesses won’t survive the
ravages of the pandemic. Others will limp
through – but at great cost and also likely
These adverse conditions have placed
tremendous pressure on the mental health
and wellbeing of owners of small-to-medium
enterprises (SMEs) and their employees, many
of whom are already struggling with stress
management. The MYOB Mental Health in
Small Business Report, published in 2019, has
found that, for 56 per cent of small business
operators, running their own business directly
exacerbated general feelings of anxiety or
depression. Alarmingly, 72 per cent admitted
that they had not sought help to resolve their
mental health issues.
“Small businesses in Australia have been
hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic,” says
Patrice O’Brien, Beyond Blue chief community
officer. “We’re seeing businesses facing the
immediate financial stress of closing down or
trying to manage with reduced turnover. Many
are applying for government assistance – often
for the first time – and dealing with the
emotional impact of what is happening. They
are also concerned about employees who may
be losing their jobs or having to cope with a
reduction in hours.”
Leanne Faulkner is a small business mental
health advocate who contributed to
Responding to coronavirus (COVID-19): A small
business owner’s guide to creating a mental
health plan, a new resource published by the
Victorian Small Business Commission.
She says small business owners should take
a proactive approach to mental health. “All
small business owners must have a strategic
mental health plan and think of their health and
wellbeing as an important business lever, just
as you would about having a financial or social
media marketing plan,” she says.
“As Peter Strong, CEO at COSBOA [Council
of Small Business of Australia] says, ‘If you
don’t have a healthy small business owner,
then you don’t have a healthy small business’.”
THE ROLE OF INTERMEDIARIES
An accountant is not a psychologist – no
one is expecting accountants to provide
counselling or health advice – but they can
still offer support within the context of a
First, accountants should watch for signs of
stress, particularly if they know that the client
is in financial distress.
“Be observant,” Faulkner says. “You may
have a client who doesn’t seem to be
themselves – perhaps they look different, or
they’re not engaging in conversation.”
If you’re worried about your client’s mental
health, Faulkner recommends speaking to
them about your concerns. “In all my time
working as a small business mental health
advocate, I’ve never heard of anyone being
offended by having an accountant ask, ‘Are
It is important to note that if someone
appears to be in immediate danger, you should
accompany them to a hospital emergency
department or call 000.
A collection of resources developed by
Beyond Blue and Heads Up, supporting small
business owners to improve their mental health
and wellbeing at work, offers practical tips
about how to approach the discussion:
First, plan the conversation. Consider whether
you are the most appropriate person to raise
the issue, then research relevant support
services and find a comfortable place to talk.
• Be thoughtful, genuine, empathetic and
• Listen carefully, be sensitive and don’t be
dismissive of their situation.
• Ask questions and repeat what you have
heard to show that you understand what
they have said.
• Don’t feel that you have to offer solutions
• Check in later, whether it is for another chat
or to assist in finding professional help.
• Don’t expect the person to open up
immediately; it might take more than one
attempt, or they might be motivated to seek
PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR CLIENTS
In times of stress, business owners often put
their needs last. However, self-care is crucial.
Eating well, staying fit and getting enough
Above: CPA Australia’s Public Practice Conference session by psychologist Clare Mann.
OPEN VIDEO IN A NEW WINDOW
sleep are closely tied to good mental health.
Ask about your client’s work–life balance and
encourage them to spend time with friends and
family and engage in relaxing activities.
Accountants can also refer clients to Beyond
Blue resources such as the new dedicated
Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service,
a free 24-hour service that includes a section
tailored to the impacts on people’s work, and
the anxiety and depression checklist (K10),
a simple tool that can be used to measure
whether someone has been affected by
depression and anxiety during the previous
The Beyond Blue website also features
templates for a personal wellbeing plan
designed for solo small business owners, and
a workplace plan for small business owners
who employ staff.
Another valuable resource is a meditation
app by Smiling Mind, with a dedicated Small
Business Program, which aims to help small
business owners and staff manage stress,
build resilience and create positive
When it comes to solving business
problems, useful advice includes engaging
with the Australian Taxation Office and
creditors in order to resolve urgent
issues, or speaking to a financial
counsellor if appropriate.
Other solutions may involve seeking out
business mentors, dispute resolution services
or legal advice.
PUT YOURSELF FIRST
Anyone who has witnessed an airplane
pre-flight safety demonstration knows that,
in the event of an emergency, you must put
on your own oxygen mask before you try to
help anyone else.
The same principle applies to life more
broadly. It is essential for accountants and
other professional advisers to have their own
mental health plan, Faulkner says.
“It’s really hard to support someone else
if you don’t care for yourself first.”
CPA Australia’s COVID-19 resource hub
includes a section on mental health and
mental health toolkit to help practitioners.
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