Running your own business can be hugely rewarding, but for many small business owners having sole responsibility for the company’s success or failure, cash flow and people management can take its toll. 

While you might feel responsible to look after anyone that works for you it’s also essential that you look after yourself – particularly during stressful times and pressurised situations. Self-care is especially important for sole traders, who can't draw on the social and practical support of a team.

That's where Heads Up can help. We've developed resources and templates to support you and give you some information on creating a mentally healthy small business.

The challenges of running a small business

There are a number of unique risk factors for mental illness faced by small business owners, such as:

  • Financial. Carrying large personal and business debt, cash flow, tax, payroll and accounting issues.
  • Workload. Long hours, taking work home, not taking breaks, demands of administration and government regulations.
  • People management. Recruiting and motivating staff, handling performance problems and dismissals, conflict resolution, customer relations.
  • External conditions. Variability in demand for products and services due to social, economic and environmental changes.
  • Lack of self-care. Blurring of boundaries between home and work, finding it difficult to separate yourself from your work and not taking time out for yourself.

Small business owners aren't


to mental health issues 

in the workplace

Health risks 

Many business owners say that their business is their life, or that it is impossible to find time for anything else. It won't be surprising to know that excessive and ongoing job stress, and working long hours will eventually take its toll on your health and can result in:

How to keep mentally healthy

Effectively managing stress will often depend on how much control we have over the source. A combination of the following approaches has been shown to work well – the key is to find out what works best for you.

Try and manage your stress.  While you might be tempted to plough all your energy into your business, it’s important to maintain some sort of work-life balance. Be aware of warning signs you may be struggling. Make sure you take time out for family, friends and the things you enjoy.

Talk about what’s going on. Ensure you have a strong network outside the workplace that you can draw on for social and emotional support.
Relaxation. Many people find breathing exercises or meditation helps reduce and manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Celebrate success. But learn to deal with failures. Most small business owners will face hurdles, especially during the first few years of operation.

Exercise and sleep. Physical activity programs are a great way to increase your exercise and improve the wellbeing of staff. Sleep is also crucial to our quality of life. 

Creating a mentally healthy small business 

As the largest employment sector in Australia, small businesses are likely to encounter mental health issues in their workplace at some point. Unlike larger organisations, few small businesses have a dedicated HR function or the resources to develop their own mental health programs and policies.

Here are some tips to draw from:

Improve your understanding of anxiety and depression. This is an important first step, both to take care of yourself and be able to spot if one of your staff might be struggling. As many small business owners work alongside their team, they’re in a great position to pick up on behavioural or emotional changes.

Learn about employee and employer rights and responsibilities. Both employers and employees have formal rights and responsibilities under discrimination, privacy, and work health and safety legislation.

Provide information to staff.  Make available free mental health resources in the workplace developed by beyondblue (e.g. place resources in lunch areas or on notice boards).

Communicate with your employees. Speak openly about mental health, and get your team’s feedback about initiatives they’d like to see implemented in the workplace.

Find a network. Learning what’s worked for other small business owners in creating a mentally healthy workplace is a great place to start. Check out what’s happening in your area through a local  chamber of commerce, a professional or trade association, or the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia.

Resources for small businesses