Mental health risks facing small business owners

  • Small business
Oct 01, 2015

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.

 “When my business was slowing and I felt like I had tried everything I could to pick it back up again and it didn’t seem to work… I didn’t cope very well with that,’ says small business owner Leanne Faulkner, sharing her story in this SmartCompany article.

“I had disengaged from any social activities I would normally do outside of work,” she says. “I pretty much became obsessed with [my business] 24-7.”

Having got to a point where she says she “physically couldn’t go into the office anymore,” Leanne was diagnosed with situational depression, triggered by the stress of running her business. After taking some time off and seeking counselling she returned to work part time, but has since sold her company. 

Unlike larger organisations, few small businesses have a dedicated HR function or the resources to develop their own mental health programs and policies. If you’re running your own company, it’s essential that you monitor your own wellbeing – especially during stressful times or in pressurised situations.

Isolation is also a big risk factor for sole traders such as Alex Taylor who, like Leanne, has experienced the soaring highs and crushing lows of running her own business. “It’s very easy to have cash flow figures bouncing around in your head if you have no one to talk to,” she says. “It can start to feel overwhelming or like you’re not doing a very good job.”

Alex’s advice for sole operators and other small business owners who frequently work alone is to develop a network of people to share ideas and experiences. “Talk to other people to get out of your own head,” she says. “When you work from home it can be very isolating and you don’t have those external points of reference.”

Heads Up resources and tips for small business owners

  • Check out Business in Mind, a free online resource to help small business owners take care of their own mental health.
  • Celebrate success but learn to deal with failures. Most small business owners will face hurdles, especially during the first few years of operation. For Alex, the key thing is not to fall into the trap of thinking “everything will flow perfectly.”
  • Find a network. Learning what’s worked for other small business owners is a great place to start. Check out what’s happening in your area through a local chamber of commerce, or a professional or trade association.
  • Get a mentor. A business mentor or coach can help you develop strategies and provide a sounding board for ideas.
  • Seek support during times of financial stress. Organisations like Your Business Angels can help you find solutions and provide expert advice.
  • 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. Make sure you take time out for family, friends and the things you enjoy. We’ve got some tips to help you.
  • 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.

Heads Up small business case study

For small business owner Leanne Craze, part of staying mentally healthy involved getting out of the office and taking part in community activities.

In this video, Leanne discusses some of her strategies for resilience and wellbeing. 


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