Government announces $2.24 million grant program to upskill 5,000 accountants in mental health support

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A new program will offer 5,000 accountants mental health training to better help small and medium businesses owners, in the latest government grant scheme to support wellbeing during the pandemic.

The $2.24 million grant program, announced Sunday, has been awarded to Deakin University’s SME Research Centre by the Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources.

Under the banner “Supporting Small Business Advisors for Better Mental Health”, the grant will see Australia’s three major accounting bodies deliver mental health first aid training to over 5,000 accountants so they can better assist their SME clients.

CPA Australia CEO Andrew Hunter believes the project comes at a critical time for the accounting profession given the stress caused by the impacts of COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, “accountants have played a frontline role in helping individuals and businesses manage the economic fallout, and this has put them under enormous pressure,” Hunter said on Sunday.

“Mental health is a whole of industry issue and, more so than ever before, needs a collective approach which supports all our members,” he added.

Along with the Institute of Public Accountants and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, CPA Australia will offer training to its accountants in a sector-wide professional development program.

The program will train accountants in the early identification, management and prevention of various mental health conditions.

Nearly one-in-three SME owners have experienced stress, depression or anxiety in the past 12 months, according to a 2020 study commissioned by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

According to the study, the main cause of SME owners’ stress is financial issues which can reverberate through their family and personal lives.

Announcing the project, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash said it’s one chunk of the $7 million BusinessBalance program the government has allocated to support mental health in the business sector.

“Small and family businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and the backbone of our economy,” Cash said. “So it is crucial that they emerge from the pandemic in the best financial and emotional shape possible.”

In addition to professional accounting bodies and Deakin University, the program also involves Beyond Blue, Mental Health First Aid Australia and Worksafe Victoria.

Deakin’s small business research centre has been running this initiative since 2019 and has previously received over $500,000 to train accountants in mental health first aid.

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