Pandemic takes a mental toll on business owners

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Date: 9 February 2021

A couple worry about their business finances

A new study has found that 80% of small business owners say they have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in the past year - including panic attacks, anxiety, depression and disrupted sleep.

The research, carried out by Mental Health UK in partnership with small business lender iwoca, reveals that four in five small business owners say they have been experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An inability to focus (66%) is most commonly reported by small business owners, followed by anxiety (64%) and disrupted sleep (63%). Almost a quarter (24%) have panic attacks and 37% experienced symptoms of depression.

More than three-quarters (78%) of SME owners said they've been worried about cashflow during the pandemic - the most significant concern for respondents.

The data also suggests that there is a gender disparity between SME owners, with 86% of female business owners experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year, compared to 77% of male business owners.

Despite the strain they are under, almost half (44%) of small business owners have never accessed mental health support. More than a fifth (22%) said they often shut off and disengage from others when experiencing mental health issues, with just one in four (25%) having accessed professional help. When pressed on why they hadn't sought help, just under a third (31%) said they didn't know where to go for help or were unaware support existed.

Angela Bare, owner of York-based Angela Bare Vintage Clothing & Shoes, said: "My brain doesn't switch off due to the pressure and stress which means I'm not sleeping well at all. I have a can-do attitude so I've never been one to talk about my stressful lifestyle with others. This year my stress levels are increasing even more because my leases are up and - after eight years of having my shops - I have to decide whether to keep them or not, creating even more anxiety. No one has the crystal ball answer but personally I'm relying on my business' social media and online sales to keep me going. If I can do that without the stress the shops have caused me, this will create a better environment for my wellbeing."

Mental Health UK is working with iwoca to develop a tailored mental health support product for small business owners, providing practical tools as well as access to support networks and trained mental health specialists.

Brian Dow, chief executive of Mental Health UK, said: "It's an incredibly tough time for small business owners, with increasing economic uncertainty and disruption impacting not only the health of their business, but also their own wellbeing and resilience as they try to weather the storm."

James Dear, co-founder of iwoca, said: "We have made so much progress as a society in promoting the importance of good mental health. But, despite the acute and specific challenges small business owners face, we have not seen the same attention paid to their specific needs.

"This research shows that a considerable proportion of SME owners are struggling with their mental health, which not only affects their wellbeing but could also impact their business … All business owners should feel that help is there when they need it, and this partnership will provide just that."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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