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Weekend Discussion: It’s Mental Health Awareness Month

I probably wouldn’t have even realized May is Mental Health Awareness Month if I hadn’t seen this post by Lara Abrash, Deloitte US chair. It’s exactly what you expect it to be:

May is Mental Health Awareness month—a time to focus on deepening our understanding about the full spectrum of psychological experiences for ourselves and those we care about. Significant strides have been made to emphasize and prioritize psychological health in the workplace, communicate openly about it, and improve the pathways that support our dynamic psychological selves. At Deloitte, we believe a psychologically-informed culture can impact how our people show up in the world—both personally and professionally. In my own experience, showing authentic leadership and cultivating a sense of purpose are two ways to demonstrate our commitment to support mental health in the workplace.

Four years ago Journal of Accountancy put depression front and center on its cover, quite a revolutionary choice for a profession known for sucking it up and suffering in silence.

Depression: One CPA's story Journal of Accountancy cover February 2020
I don’t know why this jpg is potato quality, sry

You can read Mark J. Cowan, CPA, J.D.’s story here. He lives with something called persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia. It’s described as a milder, but long-lasting form of depression characterized by losing interest in normal activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, low appetite, low energy, sleep changes, and poor concentration.

A 2023 report based on an international survey of thousands of professionals by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants found 71 percent of accountants want more help from their employers to manage their mental health and, directly related to that, 88 percent want a better work-life balance. Is it any wonder people are fleeing the profession in droves?

Unfortunately leaving isn’t always a fix:

The causes of anxiety and depression can vary and, without professional help, be misconstrued. Someone may be predisposed to anxiety or depression because of a complex mix of heredity, brain chemistry, childhood experiences, past trauma, or other factors. But symptoms may not manifest unless triggered by stimuli — like personal losses or stressful work situations. Because the existence or sources of the predisposition are often unknown and the stimuli are usually apparent, many conclude the stimuli alone are to blame for the anxiety or depression. Those who try to cure themselves without professional help may erroneously think the solution is to remove the stimuli. A CPA with anxiety, for example, might attribute the problem to stressful work projects (the stimuli) and leave the profession. If the CPA fails to seek professional help in addressing the underlying causes (the predisposition), however, the anxiety may return as soon as a new stimulus arrives. The CPA may have been better served keeping the job and going through therapy to address the underlying condition — better positioning the CPA to manage any future stimuli.

How CPAs and employers can support mental health,” Journal of Accountancy November 2021

Here’s another survey that shows why employer help lines offered by accounting firms tend to go unused:

Accountants are significantly more stressed than employees across other sectors, with workload, long hours and the lack of margin for error in the job tipping many over the edge, new research has found.

Almost half of accountants (48%) were worried about being treated differently (compared with 33% of employees), while 42% feared an impact on their career progression (up from 27% of employees). Alarmingly, almost a third of accountants said they would be concerned about their manager or HR department believing them to be unreliable if they sought help for their mental health.

While symptoms vary depending on the condition, some signs that signal a possible mental health condition are:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

One thing a therapist told me many years ago that’s been helpful is to consider your baseline. If you’re generally a low energy person then being low energy may not necessarily signal depression. But if you’re an upbeat person who suddenly feels low energy and can’t escape from it no matter how much you sleep or rest, maybe it’s worth speaking to someone. Understanding your baseline can help you recognize unusual patterns in your mood, it’s those anomalies to be aware of.

If you need them, here are some resources from the National Institute of Mental Health to get you started. You can also check in with your primary care provider if you have one, or browse Psychology Today to find a therapist near you.

Do something nice for yourself today, OK?

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