Four in five small business owners experience poor mental health

In partnership with the charity Mental Health UK, we’ve carried out research which lays bare the mental health problem facing small business owners.

4 February 2021

Summary

  • Our new research – done in conjunction with Mental Health UK on 984 small business owners – reveals that 80% of SME owners report experiencing symptoms of poor mental health
  • The pandemic has made this more acute, with people reporting panic attacks and experiencing symptoms of depression more frequently since the pandemic began
  • 86% of female business owners reported experiencing poor mental health, compared to 77% of male business owners
  • However, almost half of small business owners have never accessed mental health support
  • We’re working with Mental Health UK to provide a tailored support package specifically for small business owners

Research findings

Four in five small business owners report experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year

Inability to focus (66%) is most commonly reported by small business owners, followed by anxiety (64%) and disrupted sleep (63%). Almost a quarter (24%) have panic attacks and 37% experience symptoms of depression.

The Covid-19 crisis appears to have exacerbated the problem of poor mental health amongst small business owners

When asked whether they’ve experienced issues with their mental health since the pandemic began, over one third (35%) have experienced panic attacks and half have experienced symptoms of depression. More than three quarters (78%) of SME owners said they’ve been worried about cash flow during the pandemic - the most significant concern out of all the respondents.

The figures suggest there is a slight gender disparity between SME owners

86% of female business owners experience common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year, compared to 77% of male business owners.

Angela Bare, owner of York based "Angela Bare – Vintage Clothing & Shoes" Angela Bare, owner of York based "Angela Bare – Vintage Clothing & Shoes"

Small business owner, Angela Bare, owns a vintage clothing and shoe shop in York. She tells us about her own experiences, and how the pandemic has affected her lifestyle.

“During the first lockdown one of my main suppliers came knocking for money and I thought that was it,” said Angela. “My brain doesn't switch off due to the pressure and stress which means I’m not sleeping well at all. I have a can do attitude so I've never been one to talk about my stressful lifestyle with others. This year my stress levels are increasing even more because my leases are up and – after eight years of having my shops – I have to decide whether to keep them or not, creating even more anxiety. No one has the crystal ball answer but personally I'm relying on my business's social media and online sales to keep me going. If I can do that without the stress the shops have caused me, this will create a better environment for my wellbeing. This year is all about reflection and change for me.”

Small business owners not likely to access mental health support

The mental health of small business owners risks getting worse without the right support in place, as research reveals almost half (44%) have never accessed mental health support. More than a fifth (22%) stated that they often shut off and disengage from others when experiencing mental health issues, with just one in four (25%) having accessed professional help. When pressed on why they hadn’t sought help, just under a third (31%) said they didn’t know where to go for help or were unaware support existed.

Tailored support for small business owners launching soon

iwoca is working with Mental Health UK to develop a tailored mental health support product for small business owners. The support will explore how being a small business owner impacts mental wellbeing, and will include providing all small business owners with practical tools, access to support networks and trained mental health specialists.

"At Mental Health UK we know that when it comes to mental health support, a one-size-fits-all approach will not do."

Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK

“It’s an incredibly tough time for small business owners,” said Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK, “with increasing economic uncertainty and disruption impacting not only the health of their business, but also their own wellbeing and resilience as they try to weather the storm.

“At Mental Health UK we know that when it comes to mental health support, a one-size-fits-all approach will not do. We are thrilled to be working with iwoca to launch new support designed for small business owners, which is accessible and relevant to their needs.”

"All business owners should feel that help is there when they need it, and this partnership will provide just that."

James Dear, Co-founder of iwoca James Dear, Co-founder of iwoca

“We have made so much progress as a society in promoting the importance of good mental health,” says our Co-founder James Dear. “But, despite the acute and specific challenges small business owners face, we have not seen the same attention paid to their specific needs.

“This research shows that a considerable proportion of SME owners are struggling with their mental health, which not only affects their wellbeing but could also impact their business. This is why we are pleased to partner with Mental Health UK to launch the first of its kind support specifically tailored for small business owners. All business owners should feel that help is there when they need it, and this partnership will provide just that.”

Full analysis of research used is available on request.

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Charlotte is a PR & Communications specialist at iwoca.

Article updated on: 4 February 2021

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