OK to speak up about mental health

jane stanton

Jane Stanton, President, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that of the 45 per cent of Australians who will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, anxiety and depression are the most common.

Less than half of all individuals suffering a mental illness will seek help.

These figures will not be new to most of you, but as someone who has battled chronic depression and anxiety my whole adult life and in my new role as President of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ), I’d like to focus on how we can equip professionals, particularly in small and medium businesses to support wellbeing in the workplace.

I’m coming to Tasmania in May, along with my fellow board members, and will be meeting with as many of our members as I can to discuss these issues with them.

CAANZ has  close to 1000 members in Tasmania, the vast majority of them in small and medium businesses. Most people think that being an accountant is just about numbers and compliance but in reality it is a very small part of the job.  The client relationship is a unique one and as a Chartered Accountant, you are dealing with a very personal aspect of people’s lives.  Clients are coming to see you at a time when they are often under particular stress and are vulnerable, often emotional and uncomfortable at discussing their affairs in such forensic detail.

A Monash University Business School study published last year found that accountants had higher than average stress levels and most notable, women in the 30-34 age group reported significantly higher stress levels compared to their male colleagues.

Many people struggle with wellbeing but it is perhaps most endemic in regional and remote areas, particularly when a unique event has occurred such as natural disaster.  Practitioners will be more often than not also living in these communities themselves, and the most compelling conversation you can ever have is with someone who is experiencing the same challenges you are.

As an employer or team leader, it’s important to not only ask your colleagues ‘are you ok’ but identify what signals to look for in others, be it colleagues or clients that may indicate they are struggling. Part of my journey has been to accept that my mental health is something I have to manage on a constant basis, that I have limits and need to work within them. My biggest professional challenge has been admitting that ‘it’s ok’ to suffer a mental illness.

My mental health doesn’t define me and I’ve worked out ways to maximise what I can do professionally and be the best version of myself. It is crucially important that employers, leaders and employees be supported in the workplace, including through flexible working conditions where possible as well as through simple conversations and offering support and assistance when someone admits they are struggling.

CAANZ and Mental Health First Aid have put together a resource to help members manage their own wellbeing, encourage them to ask colleagues ‘are you ok’ and educate them on what signs to watch for that may indicate someone is struggling in some way. Organisations such as beyondblue, the Black Dog Institute, Sane Australia, Mind Australia, Headspace, Lifeline and SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY do incredible work in providing assistance and information to individuals and businesses.

Businesses are team environments and are most productive when everyone is healthy, it is imperative if Tasmania’s economy is to continue to grow that this includes a focus on mental health and well being. It is the norm, not the exception to suffer a mental illness at some point in your life and its ok to speak up.

By Jane Stanton, President, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

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