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In 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Health Survey found that four million Australians (17%) suffered from a long-term mental health or behavioural condition from 2014-2015.1 The same study conducted two years later revealed a three percent increase, with 4.8 million Australians in 2017 experiencing a mental health or behavioural problem.
In New Zealand, a four week study for the 2016/17 New Zealand Health Survey reported a similar issue with 7.6% of adults having experienced a mental health or behavioural problem.2 This increased by 1% in 2018/19 with 8.6% of New Zealanders reporting experiences of psychological distress.
With anxiety and depression rates in Australia and New Zealand creeping upwards, how can we change the way we talk about mental health?
Rahul Seth, CA and a not-for-profit accountant, has experienced his own struggles with maintaining positive mental health. Determined to promote the importance of community and social connection for positive mental wellbeing, Rahul has been able to combine his passion for mental wellbeing with his accounting skills to found Activate Mental Health; a community support group for mental health and wellbeing.
Finding his feet in the world of accounting
Having been academically focused and driven to succeed in his early years, accounting was a skill that came naturally to Rahul.
"When I was studying in high school, I was the top accounting student in both years 11 and 12, and my initial thought about a career at that point in time was that that was the natural way to go, because it was such a natural skill for me," Rahul says.
At university, Rahul completed his undergraduate degree majoring in accounting and management which set him up for a career as an auditor and taxation accountant. While he had the knowledge to succeed, Rahul then found himself struggling to transition into a full-time accounting role.
"When I graduated from university, I realised that I didn't take the opportunity to develop those well-rounded soft skills that you need for your first accounting job. I was more academically focused, so I had the knowledge but not the confidence to develop those important social connections," explains Rahul.
"It made me realise you really need a balance of both those technical and soft skills. In my first year of auditing, I didn't cope well with the stress and the challenge of learning a new job outside university," he says.
"My main piece of advice is to always seek out help from professionals, friends, family and other community groups out there for mental health and wellbeing. There's no right way to approach mental health, but know that it is never a weakness to ask for help to improve your general wellbeing."
Starting a conversation around mental health
Once Rahul realised he needed to expand his social circles to find this support, he joined various communities. This included taking up tennis, volunteering for not-for-profits in the mental health space and embarking on his CA Program journey.
"I started studying the CA Program because it was not only the next step in my career but also allowed me to grow my network and work on the soft skills I needed," he says.
"It was through involvement with these various initiatives when I discovered what I believe is the best thing for mental health. And what I think doesn't get promoted well enough, which is the importance of community and social connection for positive wellbeing."
After volunteering for several not-for-profits, Rahul started his own support group known as Activate Mental Health to connect with other like-minded individuals looking for support.
"My main piece of advice is to always search out for help from professionals, friends, family and other community groups out there for mental health and wellbeing. There's no right way to approach mental health, but know that it is never a weakness to ask for help to improve your general wellbeing," he says.
"That's why I started the support group, to create a community of support. From the time we were founded to running our first event, which was a period of 10 days our group grew to over 100 members. Since then it’s grown to over 2,700 members and I have other members hosting events to promote the group's three values of acceptance, community and fun," Rahul says.
Making a difference in the mental health sector
After seeing the success of Activate Mental Health and volunteering with other organisations, Rahul decided to pursue his passion for mental health advocacy further. He went on to obtain his Certificate IV in Mental Health and decided to combine this accreditation with his CA qualification - to great effect.
Currently, Rahul works for a large mental health support organisation where he is responsible for assisting the finance and funding requirements of the organisation.
"My employer really recognised my strengths. In this role, I am able to make use of my accounting skills in financial modelling and administrating the NDIS, but also still have an impact in starting the conversation around mental health," Rahul says.
In his career transition from a taxation accountant to an accountant at a not-for-profit organisation, Rahul credits the CA Program for helping him develop not only technical knowledge but also those communication and emotional skills useful for a changing career.
"The CA Program eclipses with so many things in your life, it's such a fantastic program to have gone through. It challenges you to think differently about complex problems. The program teaches you the technical and soft skills you need to find the best solution to any problem, which doesn't get taught in high school and university," Rahul says.
"Being an accountant in the not-for-profit field is always what I really wanted. I have now been working in mental health for just over three years. I feel like my future will always be involved with mental health in some capacity because I definitely feel like this is where I belong. It's amazing to know the work I'm doing is helping others."
If you or someone you know needs help, contact:
Australia - Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
New Zealand – Lifeline on 0800 543 or Youthline on 0800 376 633.
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