The federal government will spend $3.6 million tackling small business mental health issues under a new policy package announced by Small Business and Family Enterprise Minister Michaelia Cash on the weekend.
The funding will primarily target the provision of advice and support services for small business owners experiencing mental health issues, with an eye on developing further policy in the area.
Citing PwC research which found a link between small business mental health and productivity, Cash said the money would pay dividends.
“I have met with hundreds of small businesses across Australia over the last few months and mental health has been a key issue raised with me, in particular by sole traders,” she said in a statement.
The PwC analysis found every dollar spent on workplace mental health among small businesses returns $14.50 in productivity benefits.
More broadly, a recent survey of 440 business owners conducted by not-for-profit mental health advocates Everymind found rates of symptoms associated with depression and anxiety are higher than the national average.
More than half (57.6%) of Everymind’s respondents reported stress levels which fall outside of the “normal” range.
The vast majority ($3.1 million) of the funding package will be given to Everymind to expand their ‘Ahead for Business’ program trail, which launched about six weeks ago.
The digital platform, being trialled in three NSW communities, is designed to provide business owners with flexible, free and accessible support, helping them conduct screens or mental health checks around common stress sources.
More general business information is also provided, including advice about cashflow management and policy compliance.
Jaelea Skehan, director of Everymind, says the funding will enable an expansion of the scheme to new areas in NSW and potentially other states.
“The additional funding from the federal government allows us to make modifications to not just the digital platforms, but also the community implementation approaches,” Skehan tells SmartCompany.
Some of the money will be used to conduct more research on how successful the program has been so far and how it can be improved to better service the needs of business owners.
“It’s a mix between scaling up, but still doing some robust research to make sure we can keep iterating and changing the program as required.”
Small business mental health advocate and founder of Billy Goat Soap, Leanne Faulkner, welcomes the funding.
“It’s fantastic. It’s long overdue that there is now this attention being placed on this very important area,” Faulkner tells SmartCompany.
“This is a good place to start and I love the Ahead for Business program.”
Faulkner says the $3.6 million package must be a starting point though, saying further consultation is needed to address a “puzzle of issues”.
“Let’s not for one minute assume this solves the issue,” she says.
“We need to be advocating across government and with big businesses about the role they can play in caring for the mental health of small business owners.”
Half-a-million dollars will also be spent on a nationwide government campaign to promote small business mental health awareness under the policy, which has been welcomed by advocates.
Meanwhile, a small business mental health roundtable will also be conducted to help develop future policy solutions, particularly for regional and rural business owners.
The roundtable will be held on Wednesday and will include representatives from the National Mental Health Commission, Council of Small Businesses of Australia, National Farmers Federation and Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.
Skehan says the roundtable should take a broad but practical approach.
“We need to identify the other policy and strategic things that really do impact on small business and make sure we’re continually looking at the things that can be done practically,” she explains.
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