Accountants in rural areas are often the first to notice whether their farming clients are struggling, with a clear and indelible link between mental health issues, financial distress and the drought crisis.
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) is now offering mental first aid support to accountants in regional areas so they can help their clients in crisis.
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."
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.
Rural Queensland practitioner, Andy Freeman, said he didn't expect the role of being an accountant 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.
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