Here to help through professional certification.
Achieving the best outcomes for all stakeholders doesn’t just require a specialised accounting skill set; training and experience in managing the mental health impacts of insolvency situations is also key for insolvency professionals.
Every day, in our role as liquidators and bankruptcy trustees, we interact with stakeholders experiencing difficult and highly stressful situations such as business failures, job losses, debtors losing their home, family and relationship breakdowns; and creditors who may be facing financial difficulties due to not recovering a debt owed by an insolvent person/entity.
Around 20% of Australians aged 16-85 experience some form of common mental illness in any one year. The CA ANZ cites that “In 2020, nearly one in three SME owners were diagnosed with anxiety, depression, stress or related mental health issues”.
The term ‘mental health problem’ refers to both mental illnesses and symptoms of mental health illnesses not serious enough to warrant a mental health illness diagnosis.
Many studies identify a cyclical link between financial difficulties and mental health problems. Financial difficulties or difficulties paying debts often leads to increased stress, which can adversely affect mental health and lead to depression and/or anxiety. On the flip side, people experiencing mental health problems find dealing with their financial affairs difficult due to lack of energy, inability to concentrate, or feelings of being overwhelmed. Inherently, this often leads to making poor financial decisions.
At Worrells, we take the time to care about the mental health and wellbeing of those in the course of our business and offer support where possible. Many of our staff, including myself, participated in the “Counting on U” program, a Deakin University led Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and relationship-building training program. It’s designed to assist finance professionals to identify when stakeholders may be suffering mental health problems and how to confidently support stakeholders to reach the mental health resources they need.
Some of my key takeaways from the program were:
- Mental health first aid can be just as important as medical first aid and can potentially save someone’s life. When concerned about the mental health of your client, colleague, or any other stakeholder offer them support.
- Mental health problems are common and likely to happen in most people’s lifetime or to those close to them.
- Signs and symptoms that someone may be experiencing mental health problems can be physical (fatigue, lack of energy, loss of appetite) and behavioural (loss of motivation, difficult concentrating or making decisions). It’s important to be aware of these and offer support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
- When providing mental health support, it’s important to first listen empathetically and communicate non-judgementally before offering options and resources. If they feel heard and understood, they are more likely to accept support and information.
- Support can be many things from just listening, empathising, and giving hope, following up to check in on them, assisting with specific tasks, or providing information about professional help and other support options available.
- A GP is usually the first point of call when professional help is needed, but it may also be appropriate to contact mental health support/crisis organisations (see below) .
I am grateful for the skills and knowledge I have gained from completing this program and am proud to be recognised as an accredited Mental Health First Aider. As bankruptcy trustees we sometimes face the awful task of evicting someone from their home, as a course of the very last resort. During a recent eviction, I drew on my new MHFA toolkit to provide support to a debtor throughout this process. Some weeks later, the debtor called me to thank me for the compassion and support given to him throughout the process and to share that his anxiety and mental health problems had actually improved.
In a post-pandemic world characterised by unprecedented business disruptions, lockdowns, workforce disruptions, job losses, and where insolvencies are expected to rise, it can only be assumed that the volume of stakeholders needing mental health support will be higher than ever.
I strongly encourage other finance professionals to consider this program. While finance professionals have frantically worked for the last two years to be across legislation changes and assist clients to access government financial support throughout the pandemic, investing the time to upskill in mental health matters is critical. It’s those finance professionals on the frontline of discovering financial stress who need to confidently respond to clients with mental health concerns, and be aware of the mental health support services available to small businesses owners and other stakeholders.
For more information on the Counting on U program or any insolvency matter, please feel very free to reach out to your local Worrells principal or manager. We’re here to help as much as we can.
Mental health support/crisis organisations:
Black Dog Institute
Business owners' mental health and decision-making
Understanding how chronic stress and business financial challenges affects people
Compromised mental health and debt matters
Bankruptcy: It's good for your health