In a somewhat surprising finding, business owners who regularly visit their accountants tend to have lower rates of anxiety. However, accountants are feeling the pressure as mental health issues among their SME clients soar.
“Mental health for small business, as an issue, has almost reached epidemic proportions,” said Andrew Conway, chief executive of the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).
“It’s important to make clear that it’s okay to talk about mental health and wellbeing in a small business context; it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s symptomatic of where the mental health agenda is nationally. As a nation, we are destigmatising mental health and talking about it more, and that should extend specifically to small business.”
According to the IPA’s research, more than 90 per cent of SMEs report that engaging with their accountant significantly lowers their anxiety.
And Mr Conway added that accountants nationwide are increasingly becoming a sounding board for the mental stresses facing business owners, alongside their financial concerns.
“There won't be an accountant in the country that would not be prepared to have a conversation with the person who walks in the door saying, ‘I'm in trouble, I've got an issue here’,” he said.
“It might be the ATO, might be a client, whatever it is. The minute the client walks into the door, or a person that doesn't have to be a client, they walk in the door and they say to the accountant, ‘I've got a real issue here. My back's against the wall.’ And the accountant says, ‘I'll have a cup of tea with you.’ Every single accountant will do that across the country.”
The simple act of speaking with someone outside of the business, yet who understands the everyday stresses of operating a business, is increasingly becoming a lifeline for many business owners.
Yet Mr Conway said the issue of mental health among business owners still remains poorly addressed, adding that some accountants have been involved in taking clients to hospital after a mental breakdown, while he has personally fielded calls from accountants who are themselves contemplating suicide.
“These issues are real, and we’ve got to be talking about them,” he said.
“It’s been raised with us that small business and accountants are saying ‘enough is enough, let’s get these issues out in the open’, and hopefully help prevent someone from getting to the point of saying, ‘my business is causing me so much grief that I’m going to end it’,” he said.
Hear more insights from Andrew on mental health, how to engage better with your accountant and important accounting matters on the My Business Podcast below:
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.