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New program supports small-business owner mental health

IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre awarded $2.24M for mental health training.

A new program enabling accountants to better support small business clients will be rolled out in 2021 thanks to a $2.4M government grant awarded to Deakin Business School’s (DBS) IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre.

DBS researchers Professors Andrew Noblet and George Tanewski successfully attracted the Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) grant which was recently announced in the federal budget as part of the government’s COVID-19 Response Package to support mental health among small businesses. 

Prof. Noblet says the DISER-funded project builds on the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project that DBS researchers have been working on with Beyond Blue, WorkSafe Victoria, the Institute for Public Accountants (IPA) and Mental Health First Aid Australia.  

‘While the NHMRC project is focused on evaluating the efficacy of combining client relationship building training with mental health mental health first aid training, the DISER grant specifically funds the rollout of a sector-wide accountant professional development program that will be delivered online via Australia’s three accounting professional  bodies to upskill accountants to provide mental health first aid to their small-medium enterprise (SME) clients,’ he says.

The grant recognises the numerous significant mental health challenges that both SME owners and accountants (who provide business advice to SMEs) are currently facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

‘A 2020 study commissioned by DISER reports that nearly one in three SME owners had been diagnosed with either experiencing stress, depression or anxiety in the last 12 months,’ says Prof. Noblet.

Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin says the grant will help fund the rollout of a sector-wide continuous professional development program for accountants.

‘The program will upskill accountants to provide mental health first aid to their small-medium enterprise clients. It also provides an important avenue for the early identification, management, or prevention of various mental health conditions.

‘I congratulate the many stakeholders involved in securing the funding required to undertake such an important body of research.’

CPA Australia CEO Andrew Hunter says project comes at a critical time for the accounting profession. 

‘Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, accountants have played a frontline role in helping individuals and businesses manage the economic fallout, and this has put them under enormous pressure. Mental health is a whole of industry issue and, more so than ever before, needs a collective approach which supports all our members.’ 

A major strength of the DISER and NHMRC-funded projects is the interdisciplinary composition of the team undertaking the research, says Prof. Noblet.  

‘While Prof. Tanewski and I represent DBS, other chief investigators include Professor Michael Berk (Deakin School of Medicine), Dr Arlene Walker (Deakin School of Psychology), Professor Tony LaMontagne (Deakin School of Health and Social Development), Associate Professor Nicola Reavley (Centre for Mental Health, University of Melbourne) and Professor Karina Nielsen (Institute for Work Psychology, University of Sheffield).

‘A key aim of the professional development program is to help finance professionals better meet the business and health-related needs of small business owners and drawing on the multidisciplinary expertise of our research team, together with the involvement of the IPA, Beyond Blue, WorkSafe and MHFA Australia, was fundamental to achieving that goal.’


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