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Mental Health in Small Business Owners: The Challenges and How To Address Them

Small business owners are known to face a number of challenges on top of running their business which can lead to stress and anxiety and sometimes take its toll on their mental health.

A recent survey found that more than two-thirds (71%) of small businesses in Australia have no formal strategy for managing employee wellbeing and a recent industry report by the Australian government showed nearly one in three (28%) reported a diagnosis of either stress, depression or anxiety in the last 12 months.

The growing mental health problem for SMEs

When it comes to the challenges faced by businesses, the top three identified are financial concerns, staff management, and workloads/time pressures. While each of these is an issue in its own right, the cumulative stress caused by them creates a toll on the mental health of small business owners and staff. 

Interestingly enough in 2019, pre-pandemic, a survey by Yellow found that 40% of respondents across a wide range of industries were stressed about work, but an alarming 72% did not seek any help. Mental health issues have always had a stigma attached and until recently, were rarely acknowledged as an issue in small businesses however, mental health has finally been given a well deserved spotlight in the media especially with the pandemic affecting people’s general wellbeing.

It’s not just the owners but staff too. What can be done?

Small business employees are also bearing the brunt of the hard economic times and the mental health effect is profound. The increase in workload, uncertain financial times and pressure to succeed can lead to staff feeling anxious and unsupported. There are a number of things that small business owners can do to address mental health in their business and with the recent pandemic, there is now even a greater expectation for SBOs to provide a level of support for the mental health of their staff.

There are strong links between mental health and an employees’ performance so it is beneficial as a business owner to support your employees through any situation. Below are some key strategies to consider:

  • Start the conversation. Educate staff about mental health and the signs to look out for in themselves and others. Where you can, get involved in RU OK? Day and other dedicated mental health events throughout the year
  • Encourage open communication and provide a safe space for employees to talk about any issues they may be having whether this is work or personal related
  • Create a workplace culture that supports work/life balance and encourages taking breaks
  • Where applicable, offer flexible working arrangements and provide employee assistance programs or wellness services
  • Remember to thank your staff! They are people too and are advocates for your brand and business. The reward doesn’t have to be huge but a little goes a long way especially when extra stresses have been added to the daily grind.

It is important to note that the strategies listed above are relevant whether you have one staff member or a 100+.

But small business owners also have to treat their own mental health as a business priority, we’ve outlined some points below:  

  • Make time to take care of yourself. Schedule regular exercise and social activities into your calendar just as you would any business meeting or appointment. Keeping connected with friends and family is key.
  • Create a schedule that works for you to allow time when family and friends can visit, or set aside dedicated “me” time
  • Create some private space in your work life. Make sure there is an area free from distractions and if possible, get away from your workplace at lunchtime to have a proper break. You’ll be more productive when you return to work, refreshing your mind and energising you before getting back to business tasks in the afternoon.

Taking mental health seriously

Breaking the stigma around asking for help when it comes to mental health is key for business owners. Beyondblue’s NewAccess for Small Business Owners mental health programme, provides SBOs, including sole traders, with free phone and video support and one-on-one sessions with specialised coaches and former business owners which is an option to be considered.

If you or anyone you know is feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping, please access one or more of the below resources for help.


Small-business owners can contact the Small Business Debt Helpline by calling 1800 413 828 or visit



Department of Health: 

Heads Up: 

Small Business Commissioner:

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