OpinionMental health focus on small business

INPUT NEEDED: The first comprehensive survey of small business and mental health in Australia has been launched. Picture: Virginia Star This week the Hunter put a spotlight on business excellence and diversity as part of the Hunter Business Awards. The award I was most interested in was the Herald sponsored Excellence in Small Business. This was because I have been recently connecting with small businesses across Australia talking to them about mental health.

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There is a strong reciprocal relationship between work and mental health. On the one hand, there is a positive influence of work on people’s health and wellbeing. Besides being an individual’s primary source of income, it also has an important role in providing a sense of purpose and identity, and facilitating social connections.

But the workplace can also have a negative impact on our physical and psychological well-being with growing evidence showing a link between workplace stress and physical and mental health problems.

The good news is that there has been some momentum nationally around workplace mental health in Australia, given it is where many people spend most of their waking hours.The bad news is, however, is that small business has been missing out.

If last week’s National Small Business Summit is anything to go by, the momentum may be starting to shift for small business. I was asked to join the Victorian Small Business Commissioner Judy O’Connell to talk on a panel about what is being done to put a focus on small business and mental health. COSBOA, the national peak body for small business, last year appointed a mental health and small business ambassador – Central Coast based Leanne Faulkner – and the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has been a long-time supporter of mental health.

Small businesses – classified as businesses with fewer than 20 employees – bring significant economic and employment benefits to Australia and represent over 97 per cent of all active businesses. But there are a number of unique risk factors faced by small business owners, which can result in poor mental health, poor general health, family conflict and feelings of isolation.

These can include financial pressures, high work demands and long work hoursand a tendency not to prioritise self-care over the business bottom line.

A considerable amount of small business operators work from home or on their own, many are mobile, a large number live and operate in rural areas and many have English as their second language.

The time is right to take what we know about the factors that support people at work and ensure they are applied to the small business environment.

Following a $1.1million grant from the icare foundation, the Hunter Institute of Mental Health will develop a mental health program for small business and be working with small businesses in the Hunter and across NSW to co-design and test that strategy. Small business owners and those who work for a small business can help us shape this response by participating in the first comprehensive survey of small business and mental health in Australia.

The survey is the first important step in understanding of the unique needs of those who work in small business, and to identify options and ways to support them. So why not take a small part of your day to help make a big difference to the future of Australian small businesses.

Survey link: bit.ly/SmallMH

Also see: himh.org苏州美甲学校论坛/smallbusiness

Jaelea Skehan is the director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health

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