Mental health - How a national insolvency firm created a new program to benefit employees and clients

Driven by a desire to do more to help clients suffering mental ill-health and offer improved support for their employees exposed to ‘second-hand’ stress, national independent insolvency firm Jirsch Sutherland turned to Beyond Blue to help create a dynamic new mental health program.

Insolvency specialists, accountants, lawyers and other financial advisers regularly work closely with clients who are suffering mental ill-health as a result of a period of financial distress or the unrelenting demands and stress of running a business.

Driven by a desire to do more to help their clients and support their employees who are often exposed to ‘second-hand’ stress, the partners at national insolvency and business recovery firm Jirsch Sutherland recently turned to Beyond Blue to create a new, more effective mental health program.

“Being on the frontline of businesses in distress, we not only see first-hand how owners and directors are affected by the associated stress, we’re in a position where we can offer support,” explains Bradd Morelli, Jirsch Sutherland’s National Managing Partner.

“The first person to notice changes in behaviour isn’t always a family member, particularly if the business owner is hiding things from them. Accountants are often the first port of call when clients are under financial pressure, and they’ll have a clear view of a person’s financial position. They may be the first to notice unusual transactions or other changes that could signal difficulties in a client’s life.”

With this in mind, the Partners realised that all of their employees needed the skills and knowledge to offer the right support to each other and clients.

“Our relationship with Beyond Blue has increased our mental health literacy - how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and how to offer the right support, including how to encourage clients to seek professional help. Too often people dig themselves into a financial hole and don’t seek help until it too late,” explains Morelli.

In addition to Beyond Blue’s input, all of Jirsch Sutherland’s Managers, Partners and Principals have attained the Mental Health First Aid Certificate, which provides information on how to help someone experiencing mental ill-health problems or are in crisis.

“The certificate provides us with the confidence to help business owners and directors in a practical way. We are the first insolvency practice in Australia to take this committed approach and I hope others will follow our lead,” says Morelli.

Mental Health Week 2019 provided the perfect time for Jirsch Sutherland to launch its new mental health plan. To involve both employees, clients and their advisers from day one, a series of free Mental Health Breakfast Seminars hosted by a Beyond Blue mental health professional, and Walk and Talk ‘Netwalking’ tours were held in Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. The seminars focused on how to create and maintain a mentally healthy workplace while the Walk and Talk tours provided an opportunity for participants to take time out of their workday to recharge, reflect, learn and engage with colleagues. The seminars and tours were well attended and the company received immediate positive feedback.

Many said they enjoyed hearing about easy, doable ways they can help support the good mental health of colleagues and clients, including how to have a conversation with someone they’re concerned about or simply asking “How are you?” and taking the time to listen to their response.

“We had calls from advisers, company owners and directors asking about our program and how they can implement a similar one in their businesses. We also received calls from people asking how they can help someone struggling with mental health issues,” says Morelli. 

The success of last year’s Mental Health Breakfast Seminars and Walk and Talk tours has seen them included in Jirsch Sutherland’s 2020 Mental Health Week program.

Other key parts of Jirsch Sutherland’s new mental health program include mental health topic content on their website and in its monthly e-newsletter JS Matters, which is shared with their clients and referral networks, and an updated and comprehensive Mental Health Policy and Employee Assistance Program created with assistance from Beyond Blue and other mental health experts. The firm also offers all employees access to support, guidance and counselling.

This year, Jirsch Sutherland’s clients who are experiencing a period of financial distress and their advisers will also receive a newly created Support is just a phone call away brochure, which features vital information on Beyond Blue’s mental health support services and tips on how to maintain good mental health.

Advisers, small business owners and directors are also directed to Beyond Blue’s free online Supporting small business owners to improve their mental health and wellbeing at work guide, which provides practical tips about how to recognise the signs of poor mental health and how to provide support without needing to be trained counsellors or clinicians.

According to Patrice O’Brien, Beyond Blue’s General Manager Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement, some signs and symptoms someone is struggling with their mental health include:

  • not meeting deadlines
  • being less engaged in meetings
  • withdrawing from colleagues and clients and avoiding social situations
  • letting their work standards lower
  • being absent from work
  • finding it difficult to control their behaviour such as being unusually emotional, getting angry easily, and being frustrated with tasks and people
  • struggling to make decisions and concentrate on tasks.

Read more on Jirsch Sutherland’s initiative on the Jirsch Sutherland website

Jane Ryder - Consultant
Llewellyn Communications Pty Ltd