New initiatives are being rolled out to support the mental health of Australia’s self-employed, just as a My Business poll found almost one in five business owners admit they did not seek professional help when they needed it.
In a sample poll of 130 people conducted on the My Business website, almost half (45.4 per cent) admitted that they have needed professional help in overcoming their own mental health challenges. Almost one in five (19.2 per cent) said they had sought help multiple times.
Meanwhile, a further 17.7 per cent confessed that they “probably should have but didn’t”.
These results meant that only a third (36.9 per cent) have never sought professional help in managing their mental health.
The poll was conducted over the month to 15 October 2019, in the lead-up to Mental Health Awareness Month being marked in October.
The findings come after professional MC and entertainer Greg Ward, himself a small business owner, opened up to My Business about his own mental health struggles — including an attempt on his life — and the various measures he has since implemented to protect himself.
Programs champion healthcare for business owners
Entrepreneurs and business owners are the focus of several new initiatives, aimed at highlighting the unique struggles they face in looking after their own mental health and wellbeing.
Good Startups has launched its Breakthrough Program, aimed at upskilling and supporting business founders and their senior leadership teams about the psychological, cultural and leadership factors needed for a positive workplace culture, and how these can change as a business grows and scales.
The program focuses on three core elements that can alleviate stresses: using time more effectively, transforming anxiety and fear into tools for creativity, and breaking free of the path to burnout.
Earlier this month, insolvency firm Jirsch Sutherland held a series of mental health seminars for accountants, business owners and those who support them, including a special “walk and talk” tour in five cities on World Mental Health Day (Thursday, 10 October).
“It [was] a great way to get out of the office, get some fresh air, clear your head and talk to colleagues and other walkers,” the firm’s national managing partner, Bradd Morelli, said.
Seminars were held in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Newcastle, with between 20 and 50 people attending each event.
“Overall, the feedback from the seminars and netwalking events was really positive. Since then, Jirsch Sutherland has been contacted by business advisers and company owners/directors to ask about the program and how they could implement something similar in their own businesses,” a spokesperson said.
“The firm has also been privately contacted by people to say they know someone who is obviously struggling with mental health issues and wondering how to provide support. It’s obvious that this topic and these initiatives have struck a nerve and provided great guidance for businesses owners/directors and business advisers.”
Meanwhile, mental health not-for-profit Beyond Blue last month launched a new information guide specifically for business owners, which includes a personal wellbeing plan for business owners in addition to a workplace plan that can be used to support and manage mental health and safety for employees.
“The guide allows advisers, who often see first-hand how stress can affect small business owners, to play an important support role that goes beyond advice on accounts and assets,” Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman said at the time.
“It can also help the loved ones of small business owners to provide support when work is getting on top of them.”
Mental health a particular challenge among business owners
While there is increasing awareness of the obligations on employers to provide a workplace that is mentally safe for its teams and visitors, just as they must for physical safety, concerns linger about the stresses contributing to poor mental health among the self-employed.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), Kate Carnell, told My Business in late 2018 that many business owners do not seek help when they need it most, in part due to a broader culture that they should “just suck it up”.
She noted that while mental health is an issue for the wider community, the stresses contributing to or exacerbating mental illness are often more acute for business owners, who have their livelihoods and often the family home riding on the viability of their business.
Even the ATO has acknowledged the impacts that financial and tax pressures can have on the mental health of business owners, revealing earlier this year that it has been training its staff to recognise potential mental health problems among taxpayers and improving the availability of payment plans for tax liabilities to SMEs.
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:
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.