Breaking The Silence Around Mental Health in Accounting

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Burning the candle at both ends just to get through your endless mountain of work?
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the rapid rise of fintech platforms and services and worrying that you won’t ever make sense of it all?
  • Feeling emotionally and physically drained from dealing with demanding clients, tight schedules, and volumes of detailed reports?

The chances are you’ll identify with at least one of these scenarios and that you’ll view them all as normal for life in the financial services industry. You might even add others to your list, such as:

  • Worrying about your job security due to AI systems performing many traditional financial service tasks like bookkeeping, payroll, and the creation of business financial reports.
  • Feeling the pressure to change the nature of your work and provide more advisory services.
  • Struggling to keep up with the ever-changing taxation compliance laws.

So, it’s no secret that those in the finance industry are under a lot of pressure and that’s not likely to change in the foreseeable future. If you are feeling the strain, you are not alone.

But, here’s the problem. The SafeWork Australia infographic below highlights the 3 occupations most at risk of developing work-related mental health disorders. While there is no doubt that defense force/emergency service workers, teachers, health care workers all face high levels of stress in their work, there is also a lot of public awareness of the issues they face and a lot of resources available to help support their mental health.

By comparison, the issues faced by those in the finance industry aren’t often talked about and there are very few support resources available specifically for those in the industry who have been finding it tough just to do their job.  Yet, it is quite likely that finance workers would be strongly represented in the 23% of Australians who listed work pressure as a major cause of the serious mental disorder they claimed compensation for.

But, I don’t have a mental disorder!

When people hear terms like ‘mental disorder’, ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health condition’, many think they only relate to people who are suicidal, paranoid, delusional, and the like. However, like physical health conditions, they come in numerous forms with different levels of severity. And, like physical health conditions, most of us will all experience a mental health issue at some stage in our lives.

Maybe, for you, it might look more like:

  • Feeling so stressed that find yourself having a few too many coffees in the morning or you binge on comfort foods when you get home?
  • Consume more alcohol or smoke more cigarettes than you used to?
  • Starting to withdraw a bit from your family and friends because they take too much of your time and energy?
  • Maxing out your credit card because you’ve bought too much on impulse in an attempt to make yourself feel better?
  • Being more snappy or moody than you used to be?

If you experience things like this over a prolonged period of, say, weeks or months, it’s a sign that your life is not in balance right now and that your mental health may be suffering. You might be experiencing a form of anxiety or depression, for example. If that is the case, it’s ok to say so. It’s ok to talk to others about how you feel, especially those in similar circumstances to you as they may be feeling the same way.

What is it that’s affecting you?

Common factors that contribute to mental health problems at work include:

  • A negative workplace culture
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Poor communication
  • High workloads
  • A lack of resources
  • Being underpaid

Sometimes your issues may be caused by something outside of work, but they affect your performance, such as going through a divorce or having financial problems.

What can you do about it?

On a personal level

No matter what it is that’s affecting you, there are people and organisations that can help you.

The first step is often noticing that something isn’t right and acknowledging that you need to address it. The next step (often the hardest one), is to open up to someone you trust and tell them how you’re feeling. Some people find it easier to talk to the people close to them, while others prefer to speak to someone impartial, like a counsellor or someone in an online support group.

Your GP is a good person to talk to first. Many have counselling qualifications and all GP’s can refer you to appropriate allied and mental health professionals such as clinical psychologists, workplace counsellors, and occupational therapists. You may even qualify for Medicare funding to help you access these services.

If you are feeling desperate and are worried that you might do something rash, you can get immediate support by calling Lifeline on 13 14 11 or Beyond Blue’s support service on 1300 22 4636.

Beyond Blue also has a wealth of other information and support resources on their website.


On an organisational level

Another excellent way to access help is through an Employee Assistance Program. EAP’s are a government initiative offered via many mental health service providers throughout Australia. Employers can pay for varying levels of service and offer them to their employees (and, sometimes, members of their immediate family) for free. Services can be customised and can include individual counselling sessions on or off site, interventions to address workplace conflict or discrimination, group sessions to improve workplace morale, pro-active plans to promote well-being at work, and much more.

The Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australia is the national professional body for EAP providers in Australia. They can provide detailed information about how EAP’s work and where service providers are located around the country.

The take-home messages of this article are:

·      The mental health issues you may be experiencing are common in the finance industry, but that doesn’t mean you have to be resigned to them.

·      It’s ok to speak up and tell others that you are struggling a bit at the moment.

·      There are resources you can turn to for help and you might be able to access them through your workplace.


Further resources

Heads Up

Black Dog Institute: Workplace Mental Health Toolkit

Health Direct: Workplace Mental Health

Australian Government: National Mental Health Commission: Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance


Call to action

Many of the themes in this article came from Episode 55 of the From The Trenches podcast series presented by Paul Meissner and David Boyer. Paul & David are passionate CA's who care deeply about the accounting industry.

Paul quit his accounting day job seven years ago and now owns and runs the Melbourne-based firm, 5ways Group Chartered Accountants, and his online Freedom Accounting System firm which allows him to travel and work from anywhere.

For the last 4 years, David has worked as a Virtual CFO. At the start of 2016 he co-founded the Virtual CFO Association and in December 2016 his company, Sequel VCFO began franchising to mobilise the experienced work force of accountants in industry and bring their expertise to SMEs.

Together with their impressive list of guest presenters, Paul and David are the brave souls needed to fight through the noise and give accountants in practice the support and information they deserve.


Click here now to listen to the From the Trenches podcasts, learn about their upcoming events or subscribe to their automatic updates.

If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and leave a review and rating.

Mental Health