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How accountants are coping with the mental health pandemic

3 December 2020: Accountants are having to offer more mental health support to clients this year. One accountant shares his experiences.

Mental health has become a much more serious consideration for Chris Langrick this year. Some business owners have found themselves in a very difficult place in 2020 and he has had some tough conversations with clients at the end of their tether, especially where the future of their business has been in doubt.

Langrick has got to know many of his clients very well, which makes these conversations particularly hard. “There has been no light at the end of the tunnel for many business owners and the challenges are on-going,” he tells ICAEW Insights. This has brought mental health into question for some clients, which is an area where we do not have training or expertise. It can put us in a challenging situation.”

This is a dilemma many accountants are facing at the moment: managing mental health and wellbeing has become a knotty problem, as the pandemic, restrictions and subsequent economic pain continues.

“Coronavirus has been absolutely devastating for many small businesses,” says Langrick. “Many people have lost good jobs that won't come back, and I think that if we are not careful, there could be some who will suffer from ongoing mental health issues.”

It has become such an issue that ICAEW has issued guidance and advice for accountants who have found themselves dealing with mental health issues and is running a webinar for members on mental health first aid for clients, staff and colleagues on 7 December (more details are available here).

With the pressure rising as we transition from 2020 and into 2021, the added difficulties as a result of Brexit, deferred VAT bills and additional debt burden, the most painful period for SMEs is yet to come. 

The emotional burden of helping clients through this difficult time can take its toll on accountants. But offering personal support and advice can be an important part of the service. “We’re party to in-depth details of their personal and business finances and know when those finances are squeezed. With this knowledge, it makes accountants well placed to offer support and reassurance to their clients.”

Nor is the current economic situation completely gloomy. As in any recession, entrepreneurs have found new needs to address and innovations to bring to market. “There are still plenty of businesses that are really thinking strategically, and they will come out of this very well.”

It’s driving further innovations for accountants too, accelerating the rate of change in the profession and moving it towards a more real-time, supportive advisory role. 

“The days of being compliance-focused, telling clients historical information they probably already know, are over. We are trying to become a lot more advisory focused, helping clients look forward and assisting businesses translate their strategic thoughts into numbers.” 

At the moment, the focus is on getting through the next few months with a view that eventually, the pandemic with come to an end. With Pfizer’s vaccine approved for use in the UK, that’s feeling a little nearer. 

“One thing is for certain, we are not going to be in this position forever,” says Langrick. “We're not going to be in an environment where we can't go out or we have to wear masks all the time. It could go as quickly as the first quarter of next year or certainly by the first half of next year. You've got to remain positive, and you've got to be thinking that you can come out stronger and trade harder when you do.”

ICAEW’s webinar Mental health first aid – how to help those in crisis takes place at 12pm on 7 December. To register or for more information click here.