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Shaping the future of mental health in small business

13 October 2017

This week is Mental Health Week and Tuesday was World Mental Health Day. This year’s global theme was mental health in the workplace – providing a great opportunity to start local, national and global conversations about what a mentally healthy workplace looks like.

We know than many adult Australians spend more time at work than anywhere else – so it makes sense to think about the workplace as a key setting for action. But not all workplaces are the same and not all workplaces are getting the same attention or investment.

Being employed is generally associated with better mental health and wellbeing. Besides being an individual’s primary source of income, having a job plays an important role in providing a sense of purpose, identity and facilitating social connections.

However, the workplace can also have a negative impact on our physical and psychological wellbeing, with a growing body of evidence showing a link between workplace stress and both physical and mental health problems.

The good news is that there has been some momentum nationally around workplace mental health in Australia. The bad news is, however, that small business has been missing out.

Small business brings significant economic and employment benefits to Australia and represents 97% of all active businesses. Yet current workplace mental health programs tend to focus on larger organisations and industries, and are not addressing the unique nature or the specific needs of those in small business. And that needs to change.

There are a number of distinctive risk factors faced by small business owners/workers, which can result in poor mental health. Some of these may include working in isolation, long hours, unpredictable income, an obligation to work at times when unwell, the blurring of boundaries between home and work, business failure, coping with environmental adversity (particularly in rural/remote regions), and strains on the relationships with friends and family.

The icare foundation have provided funding to Everymind (formally the Hunter Institute of Mental Health) to develop and trial an innovative new approach that puts the mental health of small business front and centre.

What will be key to the successful design and implementation of this approach is the voice of those who work, or have worked in small business - to ensure that strategies are fit-for-purpose, and meet the specific and unique needs of all who work within the small business sector.

The time is right to take what we know currently about the factors that support people at work and ensure they are applied to the small business environment. It is time to co-design a response with small business that provides the tools and resources they need in the formats that they need them.

Small business owners and those who work for a small business can take the first step to help shape this response by participating in the first comprehensive survey of small business and mental health in Australia. Research is needed to better understand the experiences of those who work in small business, and to identify acceptable and practical options for a new response.

Over 500 people who work in small business have responded to the call so far. While icare and Everymind will be releasing a summary of the initial results in the next month, there is still time for others to participate and share their view, or to contact the team about getting involved in the project as it develops. 

You can access the survey here - www.bit.ly/SmallBizMH

Written by Ross Tynan, Research Lead, Everymind

This article was also published by Smart Company.

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