Listen to this episode here: Care, Reach Out and Help

Welcome to our blog for TALKING NUMBERS with Paul Jansz. In this article, we share our conversation on mental health with Dr. Andrew Noblet from Deakin University.

Andrew is a professor working in BL Deakin Business School and is now running a mental health program tailored for professionals such as Accountants and Financial Planners

A Recent Research Programms

Andrew is the Director of Research within the Department of Management at Deakin Business School. In addition to playing a role in developing the research capacities of the department, he is also very passionate about a current programme focusing on how to support the health and the needs of small businesses and their advisors, in particular accountants, financial planners and bookkeepers.

Many organisations are suffering, but small businesses are probably feeling it more than most. At the same time, those small businesses are fronting up to their accountant or financial planner or bookkeeper and trying to identify what they can do to alleviate some of the financial stress they’re experiencing.

When trying to navigate such a difficult and complex environment, Andrew says people are feeling pressured and anxious. Some of them are able to work through that in a very methodical and effective way, while other people are struggling.

According to recent research, a large proportion, almost 33% of small business owners, feel stressed and show signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. They are looking for guidance in relation to their financial situation, and they could definitely benefit from someone who understands the signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions. They need someone who can point them in the right direction, encourage them to seek help, and be able to take action to deal with the stress, anxiety and sometimes depression. Andrew says about 60% of people who experience diagnosable mental health conditions don’t seek help.

The Stressed SMEs

A few years ago, Andrew had a conversation with a colleague working in the accounting sciences area and was involved in the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre. This colleague told Andrew they also had an advisory body overseeing their undergrad and postgrad taking accounting courses; they have an advisory board of CPA, CWA and RPI. In conversations with them, it was a uniform agreement that mental health was a key concern amongst small business clients. Andrew emphasises that this was in 2017, before the pandemic.

SMEs constitute 96% of all organisations in Australia, and they employ 60% of the Australian workforce. However, there’s not a lot of research on this. So, it was very clear to Andrew and his research team that they need to do something. They looked at various ways of better understanding this issue when talking to different stakeholders, not just within the business finance industry but also in the mental health sector.

Andrew says it’s quite clear that they need to have a programme that’s both prevention-orientated and treatment-orientated, in order to prevent and reduce financial distress, and at the same time, also encourage people to seek treatment.

Mental Health First Aid

Five or six years ago, Andrew and his team took a similar approach to build ‘mental heal literacy’ when working with Victoria Police. It all comes down to better understanding the signs and symptoms of different mental health conditions, know how to respond to them, and respond if you notice someone else showing those signs and symptoms.

Andrew introduces that you can get a little sticker to put on your door, a badge in the room, or a sentence in the footer of your email, to remind people what they should do when they feel stressed, or they notice others need help. This is a form of Mental Health First Aid, and it has been around for a while within the human services sector.

Mental Health First Aid equips people with the ability to handle crises situations when you can sense someone is feeling overwhelmed. The first aid helps not only being able to identify early signs, but also being able to intervene early and encourage help-seeking early.

However, there’s not much research done with Mental Health First Aid, within a context like a professional providing services for small business owners, such as an accountant. This is the area Andrew and his team want to contribute. They have embedded Mental Health First Aid within their programme, which is designed specifically for business finance professionals. They are trying to mainstream Mental Health First Aid more and broader, so the business advisors would see it as part of their typical services for their clients.

Booster Sessions

One of the key benefits of this programme is that people are able to learn information and knowledge and immediately apply it to their own lives as business advisors and the people around them, being families, friends and colleagues.

Within Andrew’s programme, the facilitators are trained in Mental Health First Aid; they check each person and see how they respond. They have a follow-up programme which they call ‘booster session’. It’s like a classroom designed to give people the opportunity to go out with their clients and practice the knowledge and skills they just learnt.

The Difficult Questions

Andrew says it requires skills to ask questions, especially when people are in suboptimal situations. Sometimes you are not sure what that person’s going to do when they walk out your door. You need to know what questions you need to ask to make sure that you have done everything you can do in this situation.

Andrew shares that many people sign up for their programmes because they have reflected on situations where they have suspected there was a mental health problem and wish they could have done something different. Most of them say they wish they had the toolkit to feel comfortable and confident to ask those difficult, sometimes awkward questions.

Andrew is very happy that they start to see increases in the right direction in terms of knowledge gained and feeling confident in practice Mental Health First Aid.

A Piece of Advice

Andrew thinks all business advisors, accountants and financial planners have been doing it hard themselves. He urges everyone to look after themselves and reach out when feeling overwhelmed. If you’re feeling nervous about responding to clients who may be struggling, there are also Mental Health First Aid programmes that you can do and get guidance.