Mental health challenges caused by ongoing lockdowns around Australia are costing billions in lost productivity, according to new modelling from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. And small business owners are bearing the brunt.
According to a report in the Australian Financial Review, the new modelling takes into consideration the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns — particularly in Sydney and Melbourne — on levels of psychological distress, hospitalisations and suicide.
“What we’ve estimated is that the cost is another $1 billion a year in mental health harm, just as a consequence of the ongoing lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne,” Ian Hickie, co-director of health and policy at the centre, reportedly said.
However, July and August alone have cost an additional $1 billion in lost productivity, and another four months of lockdown will cost another $2 billion, he added.
“The longer the lockdowns and the disruption continue, the worse it will get.”
The modelling comes as Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) reports an uptick in calls to its helplines from small business owners struggling with the financial effects of the lockdowns.
The Small Business Debt Hotline received 80% more calls in July than in May.
Top concerns included inability to pay commercial leases, uncertainty around government support and how to access it, and issues with debt collectors.
FCA also noted that business owners are calling to discuss ‘overall financial distress’, and that most callers are distressed and frustrated.
“People are really struggling during these lockdowns,” FCA chief executive Fiona Guthrie said in a statement.
“It’s great so many are reaching out for free help from financial counsellors, but we know there are many more who are suffering in silence or don’t know where to turn,” she added.
“We want people to know that financial counsellors care and are here to help. They provide free, independent and confidential advice to people in financial hardship.”
The number for the Small Business Debt Helpline is listed below.
Hickie refers to the mental health challenges of lockdowns as a ‘shadow pandemic’, and something that is not being addressed in policy.
“Simply telling people to be nice to each other and exercise is not a sufficient public policy response for mental health,” he said.
First and foremost, he called for the government to reinstate JobKeeper, with some modifications to prevent misuse, noting the mental health benefits of keeping the tie between employers and employees.
Being provided with income support after losing work “doesn’t help as much from a mental health point of view”, he said.
Ultimately, the modelling projects a cost of more than $100 billion over five years, as mental health issues have both long recovery times and significant ongoing consequences.
“If you’ve lost your business, if your marriage has fallen apart, if you’re unable to work effectively, none of those problems go away if the pandemic ends tomorrow,” Hickie said.
At the same time, young people affected by mental health problems are less likely to complete their education and could miss out on crucial skills development — that’s at a time when skilled workers are more in demand than ever.
Here are some of the mental health resources tailored to small business owners:
My Business Health
My Business Health offers tools and tips for managing mental health and wellbeing.
Beyond Blue’s NewAccess for Small Business Owners program offers free coaching for entrepreneurs, while the HeadsUp site offers resources helping business owners look after their own mental health and that of their employees.
Everymind offers several mental health resources related to COVID-19, including fact sheets on the support available for small business owners.
Small Business Debt Helpline
Reach the FCA’s Small Business Debt Helpline on: 1800 413 828.
Several support measures designed specifically for tax professionals are available from the ATO. Read more about them here.
Finally, support is also available from state and territory governments and small business commissions. Find details for your state here:
If you or someone you know is at risk of harm, call Lifeline now on: 13 11 14
You call also contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636; Headspace on 1800 650 890; or The Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
Or, contact Beyond Blue’s COVID-19 support line on 1800 512 348.