Tackling mental health in your SME

Fatigue, financial stress, loneliness, and endless demands can trigger mental health issues in business owners. Here are some tips for preventing and dealing with the blues. 

Following a high-powered career involving senior corporate roles and university lecturing, Leanne Faulkner found herself running a booming small business. Having started making goat’s milk soap in her kitchen to soothe a family member’s eczema, she discovered there was a voracious public appetite for it. Soon enough, she found herself employing 20 people and supplying 2,000 retailers. Glowing media profiles and business awards rained down. Then, in 2011, a sales slump hit and Faulkner became obsessed with the idea she was a failure, ultimately suffering a mental breakdown. She had to sell the business she’d created and nurtured.

The happy ending is that Faulkner recovered and now works as a consultant, drawing attention to the mental health challenges faced by small business owners. Perhaps the message she’s most keen to spread is that those running a SME shouldn’t think they are the only ones having a hard time. “What small business owners need to understand is that their experience isn’t unique and that they are not alone” she says.

“What small business owners need to understand is that their experience isn’t unique and that they are not alone”

Take the pressure down

As Faulkner’s experience demonstrates, implementing some self-care strategies soon after you start bursting into tears inexplicably, suffering from insomnia, eating too little or drinking too much is a smarter move than soldiering on until you can no longer function at all. Here are some ways to manage stress:

  • Delegate more tasks, hire more staff, say no to any extra work that is going to ramp up your stress levels and consider firing any clients who are difficult to deal with.
  • Talk to someone. It can be a family member, friend, a fellow business owner, a life coach, your GP or a psychologist.
  • Access the (usually free) resources of mental health-promoting organisations. Heads Up and the Black Dog Institute both have excellent workplace mental health programs and services. BeyondBlue, Lifeline and Men’s Shed Australia can also provide support if you’re feeling vulnerable.
  • Make getting enough sleep and exercise a priority. Try to eat well and resist the temptation to drown your sorrows. Block out time in your schedule to spend time with loved ones and have fun. 
  • Be aware that assistance can be found from the most unexpected quarters. The ATO, for example, may well cut you some slack if you let them know you’re experiencing mental health issues.

Cover yourself for mental issues

There is nothing business owners can do to guarantee ongoing good mental health. That’s why it makes sense to prepare for a worst-case scenario. If you structure your business in such a way that you are considered an employee of it, you can be eligible for workers’ compensation for mental health issues (if you can show a direct correlation between your anxiety or depression and your work). If you’d like to make sure you’ve got adequate coverage, you can arrange to talk to a Steadfast insurance broker today.

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