Every Australian sole trader deserves to live and work with optimal mental health and wellbeing. To achieve this, we need to better understand the mental health needs of small business and prioritise approaches to meet those specific needs.
As Australia’s largest employment sector, employing around seven million people, small business is an important setting for a focus on workplace mental health.
We know that small businesses and sole traders face a number of unique risk factors for stress and mental ill-health, including financial pressures, multiple responsibilities, long working hours and pressure to work when sick.
However, investment in small business wellbeing has lagged behind other sectors. While many workplace wellbeing programs have been shown to be effective, most are designed for large organisations and do not address the challenges of running a small business.
Ahead for Business, an initiative of Everymind, is designed specifically to provide mental health support and resources to small business. The digital platform offers information and tools focused on business planning, managing everyday stress, increasing resilience and responding to mental health challenges.
How and why was Ahead for Business developed?
Ahead for Business started as a pilot mental health initiative for small business in NSW, funded by the icare foundation.
Initial research found that sole traders want to actively manage their own mental health and wellbeing. They want resources that are tailored, easily accessed and readily available, and that connect them to additional support when needed. Achieving these outcomes is challenging – sole traders work across a range of industries, often in isolation without access to traditional support networks, and are generally underserved in the mental health sector.
Ahead for Business offers a purpose-built, evidence-informed website that provides sole traders with access to mental health resources when they have time, from work or home, and in an anonymous way to help overcome stigma as a barrier to help-seeking.
Users learn about wellbeing in a business context and can access information through videos, podcasts and articles, along with direct links to e-mental health programs.
So, what is mental health?
The term ‘mental health’ is sometimes misunderstood and is used to refer to mental ill-health or mental health problems – but they are not the same.
Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which individuals are able to reach their potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to their communities.
Mental ill-health can affect people of all ages, genders and occupations, with rates of mental illness generally peaking in those of working age. The most common mental conditions affecting Australians are depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.
The good news about mental health conditions is that they respond well to treatment and many people begin to feel better once they reach out for help and support.
What does mental health mean to sole traders?
Sole traders told us they see mental ill-health and stigma as problems in society, but often they did not personally identify with conditions such as “depression” or “anxiety”.
However, they readily related to experiencing “stress”, “burn out” and “waking up at 3am worried about your business”. Using this kind of language can help open up a conversation around wellness, self-care and navigating mental health challenges.
It is important to understand the diverse needs of sole traders and the need for peer-to-peer connection, support from family members and friends, and long-term community connections, in addition to online resources.
How can I support my mental health?
It can be tempting to focus all of your time and energy on your business, but you are the most important resource for your business. The healthier and more resilient you are, the healthier your business will likely be.
Here are a few things you can do immediately to support your own mental health:
- Identify your stressors. Go online to Ahead for Business and take our Business Stressors screen, a quick 2-minute survey to identify business stress. Based on your responses, you will receive tailored tools to help keep you – and your business – healthy.
- Check in with your GP. If you notice consistent symptoms that make you concerned, whether mental or physical, make an appointment to talk about what you’re experiencing.
- Talk to someone you trust. Have an informal chat to a friend, family member or colleague to share what you’re going through.
Next steps for Ahead for Business
Following the initial research and NSW pilot, Everymind received $3.1 million in funding from the Australian Government to expand Ahead for Business to a national trial, set to launch later this year.
Although the program will re-launch with a new and improved digital platform, the current Ahead for Business website is available now to sole traders seeking information, tips and resources about mental health and wellbeing.
Our new website will feature a membership portal allowing users to ask questions and comment on particular threads related to mental health, providing a mechanism for peer-to-peer support as well as access to more personalised resources.
Moving forward, we want to be sure we have the right resources in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australian small business owners and sole traders.
Dr Sally Fitzpatrick is Acting Program Manager, Mental Health & Research, at Everymind, a leading Institute dedicated to the prevention of mental ill-health and suicide.