Towards better mental health for SME business owners

Impact story

Deakin joined forces with national accounting and finance bodies to offer Counting on U, a world-first mental health first-aid relationship program designed to support the mental health needs of small-to-medium (SME) business owners.

Key facts

  • Nearly 1 in 3 SME owners have experienced stress, depression or anxiety in the past 12 months.
  • Counting on U is a world-first mental health first-aid and relationship building program designed to support the mental health needs of small-to-medium (SME) business owners.
  • Over 2,800 finance professionals have now either completed or enrolled to complete Counting on U.
  • 96% of participants believe they can recognise the signs that someone may be developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • To further scale the program, peak body train-the-trainer courses, tailored industry association delivery and NZ roll-out are important next steps to expand mental health support for SMEs.
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SME business minds count

Deakin joined forces with national accounting and finance bodies to offer Counting on U, a world-first mental health first-aid relationship program designed to support the mental health needs of small-to-medium (SME) business owners.

The Australia-wide program equips finance professionals (accountants, financial planners, bookkeepers and auditors) with critical mental health first aid information and strategies to identify and support the mental health outcomes of clients, colleagues or customers.

To design and develop Counting on U, creators Professors Andrew Noblet and George Tanewski from Deakin University’s Deakin Business School (DBS) sought support from the Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT) and engaged peak accounting bodies, mental health organisations, WorkSafe Victoria and the Commonwealth government.

The CPD program grew out of early conversations with the CEO of the Institute for Public Accountants, Andrew Conway, who in late 2017 said: ‘the biggest issue facing public practice accountants today is the mental health of their SME owner clients. The second biggest is their own mental health.’

This has been echoed by CEOs across a range of other peak accounting and finance bodies who were seeking a sector-wide, collaborative approach to help members and their firms better deal with the issue.

‘It became quickly apparent to us that there was a need coming from the accounting bodies to help their members better deal with clients who are experiencing acute distress, as well as supporting the mental health of accountants, financial planners and other business advisers,’ said Professors Andrew Noblet and George Tanewski.

Responding to a growing mental health crisis

A recent study commissioned by the Federal Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, report that nearly 1 in 3 SME owners had experienced stress, depression, or anxiety in the past 12 months. COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem and will be an ongoing challenge to manage.

Deakin’s research-based program seeks to equip finance-related participants with high level communication skills to have sensitive, important conversations with SMEs.

The program will act as a timely response to the growing mental health needs and challenges of SME owners and finance professionals.

A critical step in professional development

To date, over 2,800 finance professionals have either completed or enrolled to complete Counting on U training. The data shows:

  • 96% of participants believe they can recognise the signs that someone may be developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis;
  • 93% felt they could ask clients whether they are having suicidal thoughts;
  • 99% percent would encourage clients to seek appropriate professional help where necessary;
  • Skills gained have lasting benefits for the mental health of financial professionals themselves, not just their SME clients.

A recent program participant, Michelle Collins from Chartered Accountants ANZ, noted the valuable mental health insights.

To further scale the program, peak body train-the-trainer courses, tailored industry association delivery and a NZ roll-out are planned as important next steps to expand mental health support for SMEs.

[Counting on U] provided me with valuable insights into what challenges people with mental health issues face, and different ways to assist them. I will be able to identify both team members and clients that may be having some of these challenges in a more educated way, and hopefully be able to help them sooner

Michelle Collin, Chartered Accountants ANZ

Grants and funding

This initiative is funded by the Commonwealth Government and Deakin partner organisations so it can be offered as complimentary CPD to eligible peak body members.

Collaboration

Peak/professional accounting bodies, WorkSafe Victoria, Beyond Blue, Mental Health First Aid Australia, and a specialist mental health training company, MWW, worked with Deakin to develop content, case studies, role plays and video vignettes specifically for finance professionals.

Subsequently, the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA), Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ), CPA Australia, and the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers joined forces to deliver Counting on U as part of their CPD program to Australian members.

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For more information about our research impact contact Deakin Research.

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