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Accountants and mental health: What you need to know

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10th Oct 2014
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Mental health is very much on every agenda at the moment - both within the profession and on the wider political front

Thinking and talking about your mental health is losing its stigma. 

Mental health

This brief guide is for accountants who may need advice or help in coping with mental health, either for themselves, with colleagues, or with family members. 

CABA announced this week that mental health topped the list of reasons why accountants contacted them for the first time this summer.

And at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, Nick Clegg announced the first ever plans for mental health waiting targets, meaning those with ailments would gain access to required services quicker. 

The lowdown

We all know how stressful being an accountant is - whether in practice or in business, you've got strict deadlines to meet, long hours to work and pressure career-wise to move up the ladder quickly. You might feel pressured to go outside your comfort zone and network when you don't feel like it, or deal with troublesome clients. You're having to keep up-to-date with the correct legislation, deal with mounds of red tape and of course HMRC. Then there are the busy periods such as financial year-ends and self assessment. Not to mention, the pressures of your personal life.

It can be difficult, in between all the positives that being an accountant can bring. 

Of course, if you don't manage your mental health and wellbeing during these busy and stressful times, it can get on top of you. And that's normal. But despite how desperate you are, there is always help at hand and a way forward. 

According to CABA, the most common mental health issues accountants have come to them with this year are stress, followed by depression, bereavement, relationship issues and addiction. 

The increasing calls for help to the organisation aren't just a sign that mental health is becoming an increasing issue among accountants. Rather, that they are finding it perhaps easier to identify what's happening and have the courage to seek help. 

Joy Reymond, Head of Vocational Rehabilitation Services at employee benefits company Unum, said that managing stress and tackling mental health issues can be done most effectively through a top-down open culture about the issues:

“Managing employee stress is becoming more of a priority for accounting firms, which are increasingly searching for ways to build employee resilience and prevent burn-out. Successful strategies are built on a culture of open communication in the workplace, but for many of us, stress and mental health is still a taboo subject.

"So it’s important that employers do all they can to reduce the stigma associated with the signs and symptoms that someone is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. And that they encourage staff to raise concerns before they develop into something more serious."

There are plenty sources of help and resources out there for struggling practitioners and those in industry. Below is a summary of tips and advice surrounding the five most prominent areas of concern: 

Stress

This is incredibly common, especially among accountants. Who hasn't felt a bit stressed on occasion? But when it becomes a problem is when it starts to impact your physical health, work and other important areas of your life.

In a previous article, psychotherapist Sherylin Thompson advised using the CALMS model to build inner strength and resilience to the issue. 

  • Choice & Autonomy: Thompson's thought is that if what you do holds a personal meaning, you're less likely to see it as a chore. Feeling that you have no autonomy and no power to decide what you do increases depression and anxiety - therefore delegate what you can, learn how to say no and don't be afraid to ask for help if you're really feeling snowed under with 'chores' you would rather not be doing. Do more of what you enjoy in your job
  • Let go: She adds that detaching yourself from work and finding time to relax and switch off your smartphone or other connections with work is a help in reducing stress. Do things to make yourself feel good and that you enjoy, especially some form of exercise 
  • Mastery: Take this to the next level and find a hobby you really enjoy AND are good at. Even better if this activity is in some way social so you can share your achievements with others, i.e. joining a running club or taking up baking and sharing your creations through an online blog
  • Social activity: Being able to reconnect with friends and family and putting them first rather than a 'to-do list' is also another way of improving your wellbeing and easing the stress and strain. Think about it - would you rather be there for your child's first birthday or school play, or get your client's tax return finished bang on time if it came down to it?

Stress helplines and resources include SupportLine, International Stress Management Org and the Stress Management Society.

Depression

This is perhaps the most common mental health complaint, with one in four people experiencing a depressive episode at some point in their lives.  

According to the NHS, symptoms include a persistent low mood, having low self esteem, a feeling of hopelessness, changes to eating and sleeping patterns, lack of interest in things you once enjoyed, anxieties and feeling sad and angry a lot. 

Here on AccountingWEB, many members have come forward to say they have suffered from, or are suffering from, depression. In a piece on Depression in the professionSir Digby Chick shared their struggle with the illness, prompting many more members to come forward with messages of support and encouragement. 

The one thing about depression is not to keep it to yourself. Do tell someone about it - even if, like some of our members, you need to do so anonymously. 

Other tips on managing this include first of all seeing your GP, who will be able to advise you further. Exercise, in any form, is also a mood-booster and talking to friends, family or anyone you think will understand can be two other very helpful ways of helping yourself to manage this. 

Some helpful links and helplines include: 

Bereavement 

Losing someone close to you, a family member, a friend or a work colleague can be a shock and leave you feeling very low and unable to cope with every day life. 

It's very important in this instance to not keep a stiff upper lip and carry on with business as usual, despite being tempted to do so. It will only make coping with grief harder to cope with in the long run. 

The signs of grief are quite similar to depression. It's common to be teary, exhausted, shocked, lacking in appetite or energy, thinking and talking a lot about the deceased person and withdrawing from social contact. 

The NHS says there are four symptoms of bereavement: 

  • Accepting that your loss is real
  • Experiencing the pain of grief
  • Adjusting to life without the person who has died 
  • Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new (in other words, moving on)

Actions include contacting your GP if you feel like you can't cope. Reach out to others in your family or community who may be feeling the same and may understand and you may be able to help one another cope. 

Do take time out of work but don't spend it alone. Keep the memory of your loved one alive by talking about them and celebrating their life - and do seek help from a bereavement counsellor if not your doctor.

Helplines and resources include bereavementadvice.orgCruse and Moodjuice.

Relationship issues

Coping with relationship issues - whatever they may be - can make it very difficult to focus your mind on work and centre your attention at tasks that need to be done.

They can occur at whatever age and stage of relationship you're in and in addition can be difficult to admit to others, meaning you're quite often stuck on your own with them.

It's quite fundamental to our development to have good, functioning relationships with others, especially our other halves or spouses.

Relationship specialists Relate has helpfully put together a list of common relationship issues and what to do about them. But in the meantime, sharing your worries with your partner, confiding in someone you trust and depending on the issue, making a greater effort at improving your work-life balance can also help. 

Addiction 

This can range from alcohol, to gambling to legal or illegal drugs. 

While it's okay to enjoy yourself from time to time with a quick flutter on the horses or a pint in the evenings, it becomes an issue when it disrupts your work, relationships and personal life. You may feel dependent on something, and feel as though you can't go without it.

As there are many different types of addiction, there are lots of different organisations dedicated to helping people in various areas: 

But your first point of contact, after admitting you have an addiction, which is a difficult thing to do, should be your GP. 

If you are an ICAEW chartered accountant, you can also seek help from CABA on any of these issues. 

And if you have concerns about a colleague at work, check out our guide to spotting mental illness at work.

Is mental health something that you feel you can talk openly about with your friends, family or colleagues? If not, why not?

Replies (6)

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By James McCarthy
10th Oct 2014 11:18

Stress

When I was 21 my office manager a guy in his 40's had only recently been promoted. Within 6 months he had virtually become a recluse in his office. He came in early every day went into his office and shut the door. We brought this to the attention of the senior partner. He just couldn't deal with his new responsibilities of managing a team and eventually was diagnosed with stress related symptoms. After 6 months he came back to work and went back to his original position as audit senior and thankfully was back to his old self.

Thanks (1)
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By johnjenkins
10th Oct 2014 11:40

Wow, powerful

article Rachael.

The complicated way we live, lenders playing silly buggers, learning all the techno stuff, HMRC wanting info more quickly and, of course the dreaded automated penalty regime etc. etc. has compounded any small stress etc. we may feel. Compliance and rigidity replacing common sense and flexibility.

Let's put it into perspective. Those that went out to fight for our freedom in WW2 weren't allowed to have depression, let alone anything else.

Mental health is quite different, like dementia. 

It must be said we have come a long way from those horrid institutions and backward thinking. Women being put away because their hormones were changing - shocking, or was it? (sexist joke).

It is good that someone has said we ought to talk about it, but then we are getting near to an election.

Thanks (5)
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By kellyanstee
10th Oct 2014 12:49

Hats off to you Rachel, absolutely superb article - completely spot on.

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By Albert Camus
10th Oct 2014 22:24

Lip service

I hate to say it, but at best this is only the very start of a very long journey for our profession, or at worst, simply lip service to a trendy cause.

 

My mental health issue - bipolar affective disorder - took me out of the professional body I was once part of and - today - keeps me out of it, as its used as the grounds to refuse my readmission "in the public interest".

 

Albert

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By Rachael White
13th Oct 2014 17:31

Lip Service

Hi Albert,

Very sorry to hear about your issues. But we can reassure you that this article isn't lip service - at the heart of what AccountingWEB does is enable accountants to reach their full potential. Part of this is helping them open up about their stress and mental health issues - we've been writing about these for years. 

 

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By lme
14th Oct 2014 14:12

Thank you

For bringing attention to this important issue

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