“The stats are scary”: COVID-19 is taking a toll on the mental wellbeing of entrepreneurs

covid-19 mental health accountants

Source: AAP/Dan Peled.

On top of the health crisis and the difficult social distancing measures, COVID-19 has pulled the rug out from under many Aussie small businesses and startups. So it’s hardly surprising that it’s also taking a toll on the mental wellbeing of those who run them.

As part of a partnership with not-for-profit mindfulness tech business Smiling Mind, MYOB surveyed more than 1200 Aussie small business owners and operators.

Two thirds said they feel COVID-19 has affected their mental wellbeing, with 64% reporting feeling increased levels of stress, and 62% saying they’re feeling more anxiety than usual.

“Australian businesses are under immense pressure right now, and the confronting reality is that these COVID-19 related burdens are likely to remain for months, and potentially years, to come,” Jane Martino, co-founder and chair of Smiling Mind, said in a statement.

More than half of those surveyed (55%) said COVID-19 has directly affected their mental wellbeing, while 51% highlighted finances as an issue, and 41% said lack of sleep is taking a toll.

At the same time the lack of social interaction, and the move to remote work is playing a part.

For a third of respondents, one of the biggest challenges posed by working from home is the struggle to separate themselves from their business

But 29% also said they are feeling the effects of not being able to socialise with colleagues, while 25% noted they have trouble sitting at a desk all day, and another 25% said they’re being affected by their snacking habits.

What’s perhaps particularly concerning is that 28% of business owners surveyed said they know they should take care of their mental wellbeing, but just don’t have time to.

Speaking to SmartCompany, AirTree Ventures partner James Cameron says this is “a big issue”.

“The challenging thing at the moment is there are so many more demands on your time, as a founder and as an employee, it’s hard to take a step back.”

But, mental wellbeing is something that deserves prioritising.

Cameron references a 2015 report on the disproportionately high instances of mental health concerns among entrepreneurs, which found 72% of surveyed entrepreneurs self-reported mental concerns.

“The stats are scary,” he says.

And, this report was done in the middle of a bull market, he notes.

“If that’s what the numbers were in the height of the good times, I can only imagine what those numbers are three months into a crisis like this.”

First and foremost, it’s something the entrepreneurial community has to start talking about, Cameron suggests.

“I worry that we don’t talk about it enough in Australia,” he says.

“There’s still an unfortunate assumption between a lot of founders and a lot of people in the ecosystem, that to talk about this sort of stuff is somehow akin to admitting there’s some sort of issue with your ability to run a company, which is complete bullshit,” he adds.

“I worry that there’s this expectation amongst founders … that you can’t show that vulnerability to your investors and teammates or to other founders, which is the exact opposite of what we need.”

What’s required is “frank discussion” around these kinds of topics, Cameron says, and for people to talk about them in the same way they would talk about going to the gym.

“There’s no difference at the end of the day.”

“It’s just exercising a muscle around mental resilience as much as it is around physical resilience.”

It’s also possible that, in the current environment particularly, business owners may feel like they shouldn’t complain or talk about their mental wellbeing if their business is surviving at a time when many others aren’t.

But every business is different, and every individual’s situation is different.

“The sheer fact that you’re in a slightly more advantageous position than another founder certainly doesn’t change the fact that you’re going through very tough times,” Cameron stresses.

“It’s an incredibly stressful role operating a company in these times,” he adds.

“The crisis has no mercy. It has no malice. It just is.”

If you or someone you know need to talk to someone, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.

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