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Why not reach out to small business and ask R U OK?

25 August 2017

Today I will be speaking at the National Small Business Summit in Melbourne about small business and mental health. The R U OK Conversation Convoy will also cross the Bass Strait and arrive in Victoria today.

So I thought it was a perfect time to ask the question – are our small business owners and workers OK? And if they’re not, what are we going to do about that?

Small business, big impacts

Small businesses - classified as businesses with less than 20 employees - bring significant economic and employment benefits to Australia and represent over 97% 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 hours, market variability and disruption, and a tendency not to prioritise self-care over the business bottom line – including many who go to work even when they are sick, stress and tired.

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.

Reaching out to small business owners and workers

It is heartening to see all of the state Small Business Commissioners, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, the Council of Small Business Australia (COSBOA) and others like the icare Foundation in NSW, set mental health as one of their priorities for small business.

But there is also a role all of us can play.

How often have you stopped to even notice the important role that small businesses play in our economy and our communities?
How often have you heard about a natural disaster and thought immediately about the impact on small business owners in that community?

How often have you thought about the pressures on small business when industries are disrupted?
And how many times have you thought about reaching out to someone in small business when you are reminded of the R U OK message?

How about this year you do think about it.

The R U OK movement is dedicated to reminding us to check in regularly with family, friends, colleagues and the people around us.

R U OK is about strengthening our relationships and bridging the gap between caring about someone, and letting them know that you are there for them when they need it.

So if you know someone in small business, and especially if you know they have been doing it tough, why not reach out and start a conversation?

If you are in small business, why not reach out to a peer and start a conversation?

If there is one thing I have learnt from 20 years working in mental health and suicide prevention, it’s that small acts can indeed make a big difference.

As a reminder, here are the four steps to asking R U OK?

Step one: Start the conversations - ask R U OK? To be honest, use any words that you feel comfortable with.

Step two: Listen without judgement and don’t try tos olve the problem. Just be there.

Step three: Encourage action, whether that is telling someone else or making an appointment with their doctor or getting more information from a service online.

Step four: Check-in. Follow-up with them again tomorrow at work or put a note in your diary to call them in one week.

Our connection to others is what builds us up and keeps us strong. Having people sit beside us when times are good and when times are bad can make all the difference.

And if you are working in small business, and if you are not OK, and if no-one thinks to stop and ask you – then I am asking you. Through my computer screen, into cyberspace and back out through your screen, I am asking “R U OK?”

If the answer to that is no, then today is the day to tell someone.

The Hunter Institute of Mental Health is currently working with the icare Foundation to develop a mental health program for small business. Anyone working in small business is invited to complete our brief 10- 15 minute survey. Sharing your opinions and experiences will be invaluable to this research and will help us to better support the mental health of small business people in the future.

Useful websites and services:

For support: