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Mental health crisis hits SME sector says MYOB

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The pressures of running a small to medium sized business are having an impact on the mental health and overall wellbeing of business owners, says accounting software provider MYOB.

According to the tech company’s latest Business Monitor snapshot of small and medium sized business owners, nearly a third (31 percent) report experiencing a mental health condition since starting or taking over their business.

Nearly two-fifths of female business owners (39 percent) say they have experienced a mental health condition, while a quarter (26 percent) of men say the same.

Of those who have been affected by a mental health condition, more than half (59 percent) say they experienced depression, while two-fifths (41 percent) say they had anxiety.

MYOB country manager Ingrid Cronin-Knight says small business owners tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform, maintain their business, pay staff and earn a living, which can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety.

"Owning and managing a small business can be extremely demanding and lonely," says Ms Cronin-Knight. "Putting in long hours, skipping meals and cutting back on sleep to get things done can have a significant impact on the body and the mind - leading to greater stress, anxiety and depression."

More than a quarter (27 percent) of those surveyed say stress from their business has a large to extreme impact on other aspects of their life and relationships, while just 7 percent said stress had no impact.

According to the Mental Health Foundation’s Workplace Wellbeing resources, high workloads, poor work/life balance and stressful work are the top three causes of poor mental health at the office.

"Small businesses and sole traders often do not have anyone to share business and financial concerns with, which can lead to feelings of isolation," says Ms Cronin-Knight.

Anxiety New Zealand Trust psychologist Rachael Chalmers says the hours of owning or managing a small business often carry over into family or home life, leaving very little space for self-care.

"Stress and isolation often lead to anxiety, depression or burnout, and can have an impact on an individual’s relationships and connections," says Ms Chalmers. "Some business owners also struggle to separate themselves from their business; meaning if their business isn’t doing well, neither are they."

Business owners also report losing sleep over their business operations. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say they sometimes lose sleep at night because they’re thinking about their business, while one-in-ten say they lose sleep half the time, and 6 per cent say they lose sleep most nights.

Costing the economy

According to the Government’s Mental Health Inquiry, one-in-five New Zealanders experience mental illness or significant mental distress in their lifetime - costing the economy $12 billion a year.

Ms Cronin-Knight says a significant part of that cost falls on small business owners, and mental health should be a health and safety issue for both employees and employers.

"While employers are responsible for the physical health and safety of themselves and their staff, increasingly mental wellbeing is also seen as a priority in the workplace," she says. "Ensuring you have processes and policies in place for supporting the mental health of you and your staff is hugely important."

According to Lifeline, around 4 percent of callers call their helpline as a result of the impact of work related issues on their mental wellbeing.

Dealing with stress, anxiety and depression

More than half (58 percent) of business owners surveyed in the MYOB Business Monitor snapshot say they use their hobbies and other forms of entertainment to deal with stress, while a similar number (57 percent) say they choose to exercise.

Fifty-six per cent said they use social time with family and friends to deal with stress, while nearly a third (30 percent) said they have a drink or two at the end of the day. Just 13 percent said they talk to a qualified counsellor to deal with stress.

Ms Cronin-Knight says it’s important to take stock and be aware of the early warning signs of depression and anxiety - seeking help from family and friends or a qualified counsellor when possible.

"Finding it difficult to finish tasks, lack of motivation, feeling tired and being unusually emotional or angry are signs to be aware of - both in yourself and your team."

Ms Chalmers says business-related anxiety often arises when self-care - such as exercise, eating, taking time out to meet up with friends, or other pleasant events - drops off.

"Feeling overwhelmed more days than not, frequent irritability, or constantly jumping to worse case scenarios rather than less severe possibilities are some other signs to be aware of."

While stress, anxiety and depression as it relates to small business is starting to become more widely discussed, Ms Chalmers says there is certainly room for improvement in the area of supporting and enhancing individual mental wellbeing.

"While larger organisations may have access to HR resource teams, Workplace Wellness programs and EAP services, this may not be accessible for individuals involved in small business," she says. "The best place to start is with a visit to your GP - from there you can discuss your challenges, and your doctor may suggest a range of services or professionals available to support your particular journey to mental wellbeing."

Ms Cronin-Knight suggests taking a look at the Mental Health Foundation’s Workplace Wellbeing online resources, including their five ways to wellbeing at work.

Mental Health Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing at work

1. Connect - strengthening your relationships with others and feeling close to and valued by others is critical to boosting wellbeing.

2. Keep learning - being curious and seeking out new experiences at work and in life can positively stimulate the brain.

3. Be active - improving physical health can improve your mood and wellbeing, and decrease stress, depression and anxiety.

4. Give - carrying out acts of kindness can increase happiness, life satisfaction and general sense of wellbeing.

5. Take notice - paying more attention to the present moment can boost wellbeing.

Ms Chalmers also suggests to:

Ø Schedule in some "switch off" time each day into your routine.

Ø Prioritise at least 30 minutes of movement each day.

Ø Take up a hobby outside of work.

Ø Relax - practice mindfulness, meditation or breathing for 5-10 minutes a day.

Ø Delegate tasks out when possible.

Ø Take 10 minutes out of your day to talk with someone - a friend, a loved one or a GP.

If you, or someone you know needs help, or would like to talk to someone, the following helplines operate 24/7:

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP). Lifeline also offers training in resilience and in suicide prevention awareness in the workplace. Visit www.lifeline.org.nz or contact training@lifeline.org.nz

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.

Samaritans - 0800 726 666.

Anxiety NZ - 0800 269 4389.

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