Looming mental health disaster across Scottish SME community

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By Kristy Dorsey

Business leaders have warned of a mental health “crisis” among entrepreneurs as new research has revealed that 40 per cent of small firm owners in Scotland are worried about their psychological state.

The findings from a survey of 1,200 SME owners by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) come as the country heads into the 11th month of varying lockdown restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic. With no timetable as to when these might ease and allow businesses to resume regular trading, the FSB is calling on the Scottish Government to roll out a mental health support service specifically aimed small business owners, similar to that currently operating in Australia.

“Speak to any group of people in business in Scotland and you’ll find that the last 12 months has taken a toll on their collective mental health,” said Andrew McRae, the FSB’s Scotland policy chair.

“It is little wonder. They have faced the same life challenges as the rest of the population, with the added pressure of taking endless high-stakes decisions about the future of their business.”

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More than half of all those questioned – 55% – said they had concerns about the survival of their business, while 46% were worried about keeping up to date with changing government regulations. Nearly a third of business owners said that repaying debt weighed on their mind, while 44% were worried about their pay or the income of their family.

They survey, conducted from January 13 to January 18, shows that only 32% of Scottish firms are trading broadly as normal. A further 35% are closed either voluntarily or by law, with 33% open but in a restricted manner.

Nearly two-thirds – 64% – reported that they were either struggling to stay afloat, or that sales and profits are under sustained pressure.

Julie-Ann Murphy, head of human resources at the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), said it was “sadly no surprise” that business owners are under strain.

Only 32% of Scottish firms are trading broadly as normal

“The pandemic has been tough for us all and many of us have found our mental health affected,” she said.

“Small business owners will have additional concerns that remain an ongoing concern, adapting to new ways of running their businesses and thinking about the impacts on their employees, as well as the personal impacts of the pandemic.”

She added that SAMH has been working with organisations across Scotland to create and promote a culture of good mental health through its SAMH Workplace training offering. Meanwhile, the FSB has increased the amount of free advice available on its Wellbeing hub.

“While we want to see governments in Edinburgh and London take better care of the small business community, we have to take care of each other,” Mr McRae said. “That means more people in business seeking out help for themselves or their staff.”

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Ahead of next week’s Scottish Government budget, the FSB is calling on ministers to put small business survival and recovery at the top of their agenda by committing to maintain coronavirus-related rate reliefs for at least the next two financial years. It also wants government, councils, regulators and agencies to reduce, freeze or scrap charges and fees until smaller firms get back on their feet.

“With the widespread roll-out of the vaccine, it would be a tragedy if insufficient support saw thousands of small businesses fall at the final hurdle,” Mr McRae said.

Ms Murphy added: “While there are things we can’t change or control as workers and managers right now, there are things we can all do to protect our own mental health and wellbeing while working, as well as support our colleagues and staff, such as respecting business hours and avoiding workplace activity afterhours unless truly necessary.

“It can also make a big difference to simply check in with your colleagues to ask how they are – even a quick text or phone call could help someone who might be struggling.”

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