Mental health pressures among small business owners outpace those of the general population, the Ombudsman has said, as high stresses and a culture of “just suck it up” bite hard.
As well as working both on the business and in it, business owners also shoulder a huge regulatory burden, have their financial future at stake, and assume responsibility for not only their own livelihoods but those of their employees.
All of these combined are not necessarily conducive to good mental health. And it is for this reason the Small Business Ombudsman believes that mental health in the SME community is a “huge” issue that needs to be addressed.
“Let’s be fair, mental health issues are an issue for the whole of our community,” Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, told My Business.
“But for people like small business owners who’ve got the extra stress of cash flow, dealing with the ATO, dealing with the Fair Work Commission, dealing with sometimes ASIC and all the other regulators that are in their space while they are attempting to get on and make a living, and the fact that the family home is riding on this, they’ll lose their home if they lose their business — that’s a pretty stressful space to be [in].”
It is not all doom and gloom, Ms Carnell said, noting that “there’s a lot of good stuff about running your own business”.
“Small businesspeople do it because they are passionate, they want to make a difference,” the Ombudsman said.
“But there’s a lot of stress in the space. And that means that we know, the figures in the mental area indicate that small business owners are more likely — in fact, a lot more likely — to experience a mental health issue than those in the population more broadly.”
Reluctance to seek help part of the problem
According to Ms Carnell, many business owners in particular do not seek help when they need it most.
“They think that they’ve got to be tough; they know that the business relies on them getting up every day, keeping the show on the road, keeping everything happening; if you’ve got any staff, keeping them motivated; making sure you’re complying with the huge amount of regulations and so on,” the Ombudsman said.
“So they feel that when they’re struggling and when they’re not coping, the fundamental [feeling] is that they should be able to just suck it up and get on with it, because the business relies on them being able to do that.”
Ms Carnell added that “the symptoms of depression and anxiety [include] struggling with deadlines, struggling with concentration, being unable to interface with people — all of the things that are just fundamental for running your business”.
Support is available
The issue of mental health among business owners has not gone unnoticed, Ms Carnell said.
As an example, she said that the ATO has trained a group of its call centre staff in how to address people with mental health issues, given that financial stress can be a major contributing factor.
“They’ve really focused on attempting to put in place mechanisms to help small businesses manage tax payments and get help,” Ms Carnell said.
“But it’s still a really tough area for small businesspeople.”
With that in mind, Ms Carnell urged anyone who may be struggling with their mental health to reach out for help rather than to suffer in silence.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, or you’re worried about someone else and feel that urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor or one of the 24/7 crisis agencies below:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.