A program to help accountants better support the mental health of small business clients will be rolled out in 2021 thanks to a $2.4million grant to Deakin Business School’s (DBS) IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre.
DBS researchers Professors Andrew Noblet and George Tanewski successfully attracted the Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) grant, announced in the federal budget as part of the government’s COVID-19 Response Package to support mental health among small businesses.
Professor Noblet said the project would deliver a sector-wide accountant professional development program online via Australia’s three accounting professional bodies.
“The DISER funded project will upskill accountants so they can provide mental health first aid to their small-medium enterprise (SME) clients,” Professor Noblet said.
“It recognises the numerous significant mental health challenges facing both SME owners and accountants (who provide business advice to SMEs) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A 2020 study commissioned by DISER reports that nearly one in three SME owners had been diagnosed with stress, depression or anxiety in the past 12 months.”
Professor Noblet said the DISER project builds on the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project that DBS researchers have been working on with Beyond Blue, WorkSafe Victoria, the Institute for Public Accountants (IPA) and Mental Health First Aid Australia.
“The NHMRC project is evaluating the efficacy of combining client relationship building training with mental health first aid training,” Professor Noblet said.
Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin said the grant was supporting sector-wide continuous professional development for accountants.
“The program will upskill accountants to provide mental health first aid to their small-medium enterprise clients. It also provides an important avenue for the early identification, management, or prevention of various mental health conditions,” Professor Martin said.
“I congratulate the many stakeholders involved in securing the funding required to undertake such an important body of research.”
CPA Australia CEO Andrew Hunter said 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.
Professor Noblet said a major strength of the DISER and NHMRC-funded projects is the interdisciplinary composition of the team undertaking the research.
“While Professor Tanewski and I represent DBS, other chief investigators include Professor Michael Berk (Deakin School of Medicine), Dr Arlene Walker (Deakin School of Psychology), Professor Tony LaMontagne (Deakin School of Health and Social Development), Associate Professor Nicola Reavley (Centre for Mental Health, University of Melbourne) and Professor Karina Nielsen (Institute for Work Psychology, University of Sheffield),” Professor Noblet said.
“A key aim of the professional development program is to help finance professionals better meet the business and health-related needs of small business owners. Drawing on the multidisciplinary expertise of our research team, together with the involvement of the IPA, Beyond Blue, WorkSafe and MHFA Australia, was fundamental to achieving that goal.”