What to do when it gets too much

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Taking time out for yourself can sometimes seem a luxury as a business owner, but it’s high time business owners viewed it as a crucial step to success, say experts.

Doctor Angela Martin, project manager of Business in Mind, says the mental health needs of small businesses are too frequently ignored or considered inconsequential.

“In corporate or larger government organisations there’s all these systems in place, but in smaller businesses it’s so varied as to whether there’s any recognition at all of health issues or occupational stress. Business owners themselves, even if they do look after those issues for staff, there is no one there to look after them.”

Increased financial stress and social isolation are two factors that put small business owners at higher risk of serious mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse, says Martin.

FBAA president Peter White says the issue is very real for financial services professionals, many of whom work long hours running their own business.

“In most health areas they talk about the health of the employee, but they never talk about the health of the employer, which is quite a mistake.

"The regulators and designers of policy need to take a step back and have a look at how they do all this. In not taking into account the health of the self-employed person there’s an awful lot of people that are being ignored.”

White says he would like to see more programmes put in place that understand what it’s like to be in business and offer support to business owners.

The Business in Mind project offers free information and advice via DVDs and leaflets, and is in the process of setting up web-based support for business owners.

Martin also recommends the government-provided resource business.gov.au and mental health organisation Beyond Blue as good places for business owners to find support.

Unfortunately, stigma around accessing help or assistance for mental health issues is preventing many business owners from taking care of themselves, says Martin.

“But our message is that mental health is one of their most important assets; just as important, if not more so, than any other aspect of the business.

"If you’re not coping that’s going to negatively impact your business and it’s going to create this negative cycle. So there’s no shame in seeking help.”

If business owners are experiencing stress, it’s important to seek advice, long before it becomes debilitating, says Martin.

“If you’re at all worried about your levels of stress and your skills in managing it, just treat it like any other aspect of business management, get the skills and learn how to protect your mental health.”