ICAS CEO, Bruce Cartwright CA, says now is the time to turn open conversations around mental health into concrete actions
Saturday 10 September was World Suicide Prevention Day, a time to focus on the issue and encourage each other to have vital conversations to help reduce the stigma of sharing.
The campaign calls for us to create hope through action, and this is something that I believe we can all take to heart by not only having conversations about mental health and wellbeing, but by embracing the topic as a conversation that’s central to the way we live and work.
Pre-pandemic research from ICAS partner Bupa found that 25% of accounting and finance employees rated their overall wellbeing as poor, a figure that had risen to 47% in a mid-pandemic poll conducted by AccountingWEB. Clearly, this is not just some niche nice-to-have for organisations.
With these numbers in mind, ICAS launched its Mental Fitness Pledge last year which makes up part of a three-year plan that aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental ill-health in business, provide access to resources and see ICAS become a leading voice for the promotion of mental fitness.
The pledge and strategy were in part reactions to the world around us. We were in the midst of the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone was struggling, to one degree or another, to cope with the physical, financial and social impacts and the toll that these were taking on our mental health.
In many ways, we’re now in a better place than where we were back then, and overall people’s mental health is improving as the worst effects of the pandemic appear to recede. According to recent research by The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the amount of people who rate their mental health as ‘good’ has increased since 2021, from 52% to 55%, getting closer to the pre-pandemic levels of 58% seen in 2020.
But whilst these improvements are clearly welcome, even if those pre-pandemic levels are achieved, there will still be a large proportion of us who are impacted by poor mental health.
Time to turn words into action
At such a moment of clear consensus, it’s obvious that now is the time to advance these open conversations and turn words into actions.
The ethical argument to help is persuasive enough, but the way things were didn’t make good business sense either. Think of the costs incurred. From unscheduled absences to low productivity and – in the most serious cases – losing staff, it’s significant. Even before the pandemic, Deloitte estimated the annual cost of mental ill health to UK employers as £45bn. That shouldn’t be “business as usual” and, as financial professionals, it’s a number we can’t ignore.
When it comes to breaking down this stigma and addressing its costs for both individuals and business, it is crucial to be honest – particularly for leaders, who set the tone and forge the team culture. It’s something I take incredibly seriously as ICAS CEO – as my words and actions influence the experience of employees, members and students alike.
We have an opportunity to put the old ways of the past behind us, take what worked, drop what didn’t and shape a better way of living and working. This new and improved ‘normal’ must hold wellbeing at its heart, support the resilience of individuals and develop organisations that are both sustainable and successful.
And no matter the size of the organisation, it’s key to remember that long-lasting progress takes leadership. The drive to improve must be genuine, come from the top down and shouldn’t be seen as the sole preserve of HR departments. Mental fitness must be treated in the manner of any other business strategy that’s imperative to growth and success. It must be planned, resourced, executed and monitored.
Let’s keep the conversation going and keep making progress down the road to a healthier, happier and more successful new normal.