R U OK Day serves as a strong reminder of the indelible link regional farmers face between mental health issues, financial distress and the drought crisis.
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) are pitching in where they can to help out their bush clients in crisis by offering mental first aid training to accountants in regional areas.
A fact sheet from the Royal College of General Practitioners says suicide rates – particularly of men –can be more than double those of people who live in major capital cities.
And more broadly, according to the National Rural Health Alliance and Lifeline, people in regional and rural areas have less access to mental health services than their metropolitan counterparts.
CA ANZ Segment Support Manager, Catherine Kennedy, said the training is helping rural accountants who may find themselves in their role, reaching beyond just advising on finances.
“The clear message we’ve had from our members, particularly in regional and rural areas, is that there is a clear link between financial distress and mental health issues,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in drought-affected areas or others, farmers are facing challenges and accountants are seeing people in financial distress and are often the first port of call.
“We’re are very clear that accountants aren’t psychologists and they’re not expected to give counselling, but they need guidance on how to have conversations and where they can seek further help.”
“Days like R U OK Day helps remind everyone, not just accountants, of the importance of stopping and checking in with our mates. At the end of the day you don’t need to be an expert to reach out – just a good friend and a great listener,” Ms. Kennedy said.
Rural accountant, Andy Freeman, said he didn’t expect the role of being a financial practitioner in a regional town would involve providing a large amount of emotional support for clients.
“We see our clients in their most difficult times; I have to wear many hats. Particularly through the periods of drought, we see clients at the ragged edge of their financial situations,” Mr Freeman said.
“We strive to be trusted advisers and being here in a rural town, there is a different sort of relationship than I previously experienced working as a metro accountant.
“Being a rural accountant means we are one point of contact for a broader range of queries and life experiences,” he said.
The Mental Health First Aid Guide for Chartered Accountants assists all CAs to support any client experiencing financial difficulties and mental health problems, no matter their postcode.
Some related resources and advice is available at www.charteredaccountantsanz.com/member-services/mentoring-and-support/ca-wellbeing/ca-wellbeing-australia