Mental Health and Small Business – a Reflection


Mental Health and Small Business – a Reflection

Five years ago this week I lost my best mate to suicide. There were no external warning signs, no cries for help or invitations to talk about things that were bothering him. Just the usual jokes over coffee and discussion about business.

We met years before when we were both working in retail and full of dreams about one day owning our own business. He was managing a large retail store in Sydney and I was one of the sales reps. We had that kind of friendship where people would swear we were related rather than friends. Instantly tight and for years, often inseparable.

Joey ventured into the world of self-employment before me. He was not one to ‘dip slowly’ into anything, opening a Bistro in one of Sydney’s busiest inner-city locations. We would often sit and talk about marketing strategies, customer growth, financial challenges and where we saw business headed. These conversations usually ran late into the night, often with a few bottles of red and always with lots of home cooked food (being Italian and having a bistro meant all deep and meaningful conversations had food and wine).

When Joey closed his first business, we held an autopsy for everything that worked well, and the things he figured he would do better next time. He was a true entrepreneur at heart, finding ideas in every situation and opportunity in each conversation. Often starting a catch up with, “I’ve had this idea”, which would lead to a 30-minute exploration of his latest business concept.

Joey was every small business person I’ve ever met. Wildly ambitious, overly optimistic and with a healthy desire to create a legacy for his family. To leave this world in a better place than when he entered.

And much like other business owners that I’ve spoken with (including myself), he struggled with depression. A feeling as though he wasn’t worthy, he wasn’t good enough, smart enough or capable enough (imposter syndrome anyone), to do and be all the things he wanted to achieve.

Mental health remains a topic that demands further discussion. The Heads Up Organisation recently completed a study into the “State of Workplace Health in Australia” and found that, “According to an ABS study, 45% of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. It is estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year.”

As a society, we are beginning to see measures put in place to assist our workforce in addressing mental health conditions. The sad truth remains though, if you are the owner of a small business, the chances are at some point you will be faced with or have to deal with a mental health episode.

Kate Carnell, Australia’s first small business and family enterprise ombudsman when interviewed about mental health issues facing small business owners said, “The reason small business owners are less likely to get help is because they can’t get time off and they feel they can’t take a break because they have to be tough because everyone is relying on them.’’

So, how can we as a society support small business owners to ensure that we don’t lose more people like Joey along the way? Believe me, it’s a question I’ve contemplated a lot since his passing.

Australia has some excellent mental health support resources available, but, for many, there is still an unease about asking for help. As though the admission that you’re struggling makes it ‘real’ or makes someone, somehow, less capable of running a successful business.

In my opinion, it falls to you and to me; to everyone reading this article; to everyone who interacts with a small business. It is up to each one of us to begin a conversation. To check on our small business friends, and to let them know that they are appreciated, and they are valuable and that they can, and should, ask for help.

We can begin by accepting that sometimes it’s bloody hard being in business. That sometimes things don’t go the way we’d planned. We can begin by opening a dialogue. Even though we run a small business, sometimes we might just need a friend… and that’s ok.

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  • Jodie

    So true. My husband and I have firsthand experience of this issue. Self employment can be so hard, get a few too many knocks in a row, a regional (G)FC, and a couple of tricky staff issues and you’ve got a recipe for potential meltdown. It takes massive guts, determination and sometimes a miracle, to survive it. We’ve had some terribly tough years, but continue to put on a brave face for our kids, our staff, each other. Thanks for your article.

    • mm

      Hi Jodie,
      Thank you so much for taking time out to comment, and for reading the article. Sorry to hear you’ve had your share of difficulties, but I’m pleased you are able to talk about it – in whatever shape that comes.
      Keep talking, keep sharing and all the very best with everything in your business and your future.

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