Asking R U OK in stressed financial times


5 min

Positive options start by having a conversation.

The annual R U OK? Day was on 8 September with the theme “Ask R U OK? No qualifications needed”. It reminds us that we don’t need to be an expert to have an R U OK? conversation. We all have what it takes to ask, listen, and support one another in life’s ups and downs.

People experiencing mental health problems are 3.5 times more likely to be in problem debt than people without mental health problems. Those with problematic/unserviceable debt, 46% of those people also have a mental health problem[1]. In most cases, a business owner will be suffering from a mental health condition long before anyone else (such as an advisor) is made aware of the business’s insolvency position. Accordingly, by the time a business owner must make a significant decision regarding a business’s future—such as seeking insolvency/restructuring services or identifying a new opportunity for their business—their ability to make effective decisions is hampered.

In the last 18-24 months we’ve all experienced unprecedented business disruptions, lockdowns, and job losses; and now the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is rapidly and resolutely increasing its debt recovery and collection efforts. With insolvencies expected to surge, the number of business owners needing mental health support will be higher than ever.

In my 10 years in the insolvency industry, I know we are making a real difference to people’s lives (and are most proud of) when it is evident the weight of debt and financial stress is lifted off a person’s shoulders. Within a matter of months, the change in their personality and attitude is perceptible on so many levels. Unfortunately, not all business owners seek the financial or mental help they need. Stigma around debt can mean that people struggle to ask for help and may become isolated.

Recognising that business owners are not in their normal or positive state of mind is therefore critical. Compounding the problem is that being able to successfully communicate the solutions available to them is diminished, or they just can’t see a solution. According to Patrice O’Brien, Beyond Blue’s General Manager Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement, some signs and symptoms of someone struggling with their mental health include:

  • not meeting deadlines

  • being less engaged in meetings

  • withdrawing from colleagues and clients and avoiding social situations

  • letting their work standards lower

  • being absent from work

  • finding it difficult to control their behaviour such as being unusually emotional, getting angry easily, and being frustrated with tasks and people

  • struggling to make decisions and concentrate on tasks.

Should you notice a client displaying any of the above signs, please be brave to have an R U OK? Conversation. Advisers, small business owners, and directors can use Beyond Blue’s free online guide: Supporting small business owners to improve their mental health and wellbeing at work. It provides practical tips about how to recognise the signs of poor mental health and how to provide support without needing to be trained counsellors or clinicians.

Being an advisor who feels they have the burden of discovering and then demonstrating the level of financial distress to their client is also very difficult. Having insolvency practitioners who are qualified to assist helps. Our vast experience helps to assure clients by sharing how we’ve helped many other people in similar circumstances to theirs. It costs nothing to you or your client to get our initial advice. We’ll meet with you together with your client to go through the position and explain the options. Sometimes that conversation is enough shift perspectives and create support both professionally and personally. Positive options start by having a conversation.

Related articles:

People’s stories behind insolvencies

Supporting mental health to achieve the best outcome

Business owners’ mental health and decision-making

 Get support:

Beyond Blue

Black Dog Institute

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