Mental health & wellbeing

The mental health red flags of small business ownership

Leanne Faulkner /

Everyone has stressful days at work. Owning a small business is often like riding a rollercoaster — some days it’s an absolute high while others dip quite low. That’s normal. Stress is also normal — it can help us get out of bed each day!

However, when every day proves to be stressful, and each week becomes a chore it may be time to check the state of your mental health.

What is mental health? The World Health Organisation describes it as a state of general wellbeing, where is it possible to reach your potential, cope with the normal stressors of life, and contribute to your community.

Look out for the following red flags — they may be an indicator it’s time to care for yourself:

  • Your sleep patterns change. You may find that you’re unable to get to sleep, or you wake very early. Alternatively, you may sleep more than usual and feel reluctant to get out of bed each day;
  • Your eating and drinking habits change. Sometimes continual stressful situations can suppress your appetite. Have you lost your taste for your favourite foods? Or, perhaps food is providing comfort and you are eating more than normal. Increases in alcohol consumption can also be a sign it’s time to think about your mental health;
  • Your body is tense. Some people experience a continual knot in their stomach, or tension across their shoulders and neck. Physical changes and discomfort may be an indicator that it’s time for a check-up;
  • You think constantly about work. Everyone needs some down time from the day-to-day running of a small business, however, if you find that even your private time is consumed with thoughts of work you may need to address your mental health;
  • You may feel overwhelmed. Tasks that normally would be easy to undertake may feel overwhelming now. It may be a challenge to solve problems or identify solutions to situations. Navigating the challenges of small business ownership may prove to be more difficult than normal;
  • You feel angry or sad regularly. It’s okay to have the occasional down-day — we all do. However, if you find you are more emotional than usual, unable to cope with everyday problems, crying regularly or unusually, and often short-tempered with others, these may be red flags to care for your mental health; and
  • You distance yourself from others. You may find that you no longer attend the social events you have enjoyed in the past, or you’ve stopped doing activities outside of the work environment. You may stop talking or sharing with family and friends. You may feel a sense of isolation at times.

It takes a brave person to identify when things have changed. However, this first step is the key to continuing on at work. Help is available in many forms, including a visit to your doctor, a chat with a counsellor, a coffee with a trusted friend or seeking online support.

For immediate assistance, check out the resources at www.headsup.org.au or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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Leanne Faulkner

Leanne Faulkner is a small business mental health advocate and the founder of Billie Goat Soap, which she grew from a kitchen-based hobby and later sold to The Heat Group. Drawing on her own experience, Leanne advocates for more mental health resources to support small business owners through her Fortitude at Work website and Facebook page. She has worked with the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, and the Victorian Small Business Commissioner, and is an ambassador for the Council of Small Business of Australia. She was named the COSBOA Business Champion Award in 2015, and now represents COSBOA on the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. 

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