Funding boost for small-business advisors’ mental health training

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The professional accounting bodies, including the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA), Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) and CPA Australia, will increase mental health training for their members through a new grant.

The Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) has given the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre $2.24 million in funding for its “Supporting Small Business Advisors for Better Mental Health” project that will train 5000 accountants by 2022.

This project builds on last year’s $1 million grant through the National Health and Medical Research Council for the development of materials for mental health training. The new grant will allow for the roll out of these materials, to be implemented in collaboration between the professional accounting bodies, Deakin University, Beyond Blue, Mental Health First Aid Australia and Worksafe Victoria.

A 2020 study commissioned by DISER revealed that the main factor contributing to an SME owner’s stress is related to financial issues and the impact of those stresses on family and personal life.

“The Government is making record investments in mental health services and support with expenditure estimated to be $5.7 billion this year alone,” Federal Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaella Cash said.

“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,” Senator Cash added. “We have committed $7 million to the BusinessBalance program, including $2.24 million in Deakin University and other stakeholders to train more than 4000 accountants in mental health first aid to support their critical small-business networks.”

Welcoming the grant, Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin said, “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,” Vice-Chancellor Martin added. “The project also provides an important avenue for the early identification, management, or prevention of various mental health conditions.”

And IPA CEO Andrew Conway said, “Our combined research grant funding of over $3.24m 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.”

“By upskilling accountants, we believe there will be tremendous positive outcomes in supporting SME owners and ensuring they get the professional help as required,” Conway added. “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 stressed that the project comes at a critical time for the accounting profession.

“Mental health is a whole of industry issue and, more so than ever before, needs a collective approach which supports all our members,” Hunter said. “By training accountants to provide mental health support to their tens of thousands of small and medium business clients, we will have a larger societal impact.”