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Improving Mental Health for Small Business Owners

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Each day in Australia, six men take their own life. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged between 15 and 44. To put that into perspective, 3,128 people took their own life last year, and 75 per cent of them were men. These heartbreaking statistics continue to rise.

The link between suicide and occupation has been the subject of several studies with tradesmen enduring some of the highest suicide rates in Australia, often double the amount seen in other industries.

Everymind is a leading organisation dedicated to mental health and suicide prevention. They have been delivering successful prevention programs for more than 25 years. The Institute has recently received a much needed $3.1 million grant. It is going to be used to support the mental health of small business owners as part of the Federal Government’s economic support package.

This grant follows an initial $1.1 million provided by the icare foundation in 2017 which went to develop Ahead for Business. The program is designed specifically for sole-traders and small business, and it delivers access to practical resources and tools to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Ahead for Business has a digital platform (website and app) that connects people to tools, programs and interventions to support mental health and is tailored to their specific needs. The website and app are designed to aid sole traders and small-business owners—it helps them assess their personal situation and direct them to information and support that can assist them with their individual needs. It also enables them to adopt small changes in their everyday routine as well as provides templates to develop their own Business Mental Health Plan.

Everymind work in partnership with NSW small-business owners and sole traders, key state and national agencies and the icare foundation.

“Small business owners face a range of stressors including long working hours, feeling obliged to work when sick, multiple responsibilities, and financial stress,” said Everymind Director Jaelea Skehan, in a recent media release.

“We also know from our research that many small business owners were concerned about the impact of the business on the family and many were feeling disconnected or isolated in their business,” added Ms Skehan.  

Ahead for Business was designed based on research conducted with icare in 2017 into the stresses small-business owners face and the gaps in existing support for this sector.

The research revealed that:

•   Small business owners and workers experience depression, anxiety and stress at concerning levels.

•   A number of stressors for small business owners were identified, which included the obligation to work when sick, financial stress, having multiple responsibilities (including responsibility for staff) and challenges obtaining a work-life balance.

•   A number of stressors were associated with current symptoms of depression and anxiety, including working in isolation, financial stress, and worry about the impact the business has on the family.

•   Small businesses can be under immense financial pressure and can be time-poor, often working long hours. For that reason support needs to be flexible available after usual business hours, and cost-effective.

•   Stigma may be a barrier for small-business owners and workers, so interventions need to be accessible, anonymous and discrete.

•   Health-related productivity losses in small business are high, with people often absent from work due to ill-health and/or working despite a health-related problem.

•   Use of online approaches to improve mental health in small business should be explored, given the evidence for e-health approaches, the frequent use of the internet, and the fact that most indicated they were likely to first look online if they had an issue or concern.

In Victoria, IncoLink has implemented another notable initiative, Bluehats. This particular program offers a suicide prevention initiative that aims to tackle the rising rate of suicide among construction workers in Victoria by promoting to talk about the issue.

The Bluehats program was created in partnership with employers and unions. It sees Incolink’s team of mental health professionals visit construction sites across Victoria to provide general awareness sessions on suicide prevention directly to workers.

Workers can then volunteer to become a ‘Bluehat.’ They will receive a full day’s training and a branded blue hardhat giving them high visibility and recognition as a safe and non-judgmental first port of call for co-workers. ‘Bluehats’ are also trained to link workers to appropriate mental health services.

Other places that can provide help:

• Lifeline 24/7: 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au

• Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

• MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78 or www.mensline.org.au

• BeyondBlue: 1300 224 636 or www.beyondblue.org.au

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