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Mental health program aims to save the lives and livelihoods of small business

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Deakin Business School's Counting on U program is providing free training in mental health first aid for business advisers to small business. COSBOA is highly supportive of this initiative and participates on the steering committee. More information written by Deakin Business School is below:

Since COVID dramatically changed the business landscape, small business has put up the good fight to adapt and survive in these challenging times. For some, the strain has been too much and it has taken a toll on their mental health*.

Mental illness is the single biggest cause of disability in Australia and small business owners are so busy and isolated, their feelings of distress, anxiety and overwhelm are not always visible. Trusted advisers, including accounting and finance professionals, can see changes in their clients’ behaviours and can, with the right skills, be instrumental in providing critical, timely support to small business owners.

This realisation seeded the creation of ‘Counting on U’, a Deakin Business School training and research program that has been designed for financial advisers who support small businesses. Professors George Tanewski and Andrew Noblet from Deakin Business School, in collaboration with a team of Deakin researchers and business finance professionals, created Counting on U.

“Through regular contact with both accounting bodies and financial planners, we were hearing about members who felt nervous about having conversations with clients who they suspected were experiencing mental health issues,” says Noblet. “They didn’t want to make matters worse and weren’t sure where to direct their clients to seek help.”

Previous research had shown that financial hardship often went hand-in-hand with mental health problems, Noblet says, and the pandemic has exacerbated this.

With most accountants shifting from a focus on compliance to providing more holistic business advice, business owners are increasingly sharing more than just their accounts, says Tanewski. “Accountants are high-trust advisers with client relationships often lasting many years. This brings them into new territory.”

To develop a training program that integrates mental health first aid into the everyday practices of finance professionals, Noblet and Tanewski worked with Chartered Accountants ANZ, CPA Australia, IPA, as well as Beyond Blue, WorkSafe and Mental Health First Aid Australia. Deakin Business is working closely with Mentally Well Workplaces to deliver the training program that combines Relationship Building Training and Mental Health First Aid.

“Small business needs all the support we can give at this time of immense change, challenges and COVID. Hence, we encourage all trusted advisers to small business to learn more about supporting small business owners with skills that can help them navigate their financial stress and anxiety. And it is free,” says COSBOA interim-Chief Executive Officer Alexi Boyd.

"COSBOA is on the steering committee for Counting on U precisely because we see the value this brings to small business owners in crisis and the support it provides to finance professionals, who themselves are going through a tough time which is not yet over."

This training is now available to accountants, bookkeepers, financial planners, business coaches and finance professionals for free. There are CPD points available through these professional associations:

Places are limited and registrations close 29 June 2021.

Please contact if you have any questions.

Counting on U is jointly funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Federal Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER), alongside our partners Beyond Blue, Worksafe Victoria, Mental Health First Aid Australia, and the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA). Deakin Business School is honoured to be responsible for delivering this important program across Australia. Our thanks go to COSBOA for supporting this program and all the organisations who have come together to change the stigma of mental health.

*A recent study commissioned by the Federal Department of Industry, Science, Energy, and Resources, reports that nearly 1 in 3 SME owners had experienced stress, depression, or anxiety in the past 12 months.

If you or someone you know needs help, talking to a doctor is a good place to start

To find out more or if you would like to talk to someone that can help, you can contact:

· Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online

· Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online

· Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467


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