Small business and mental health: supporting small business when they are facing challenges

McNair yellowSquares for the then Department of Industry, Innovation and Science


This document was authored by the then Department of Industry, Innovation and Science as part of the Small Business portfolio policy functions which have since been transferred to the Treasury.

Previous studies have found a link between stress and mental health, yet detailed research on the range of stressors affecting small business owners (SBOs) has been limited.

We commissioned McNair yellowSquares to conduct research into gaps in mental health support and services for SBOs during critical business challenge points. The research report provides a solid base for SBO policy development to improve workplaces, quality of life, and business survival rates post COVID‑19.

The researchers engaged with SBOs from across Australia through an online survey and in‑depth interviews from April to May 2020.

Some key findings:

  • mental health concerns:1 in 3 respondents (34%) reported a medical diagnosis in the past 12 months of either stress, anxiety, or depression
  • staffing stressors: there is a notable stress increase as the number of business employees increases
  • accessing support: while many SBOs (45%) reported that they often or always turn to their family, other common forms of support include:
    • online research (32%)
    • advice from their accountant (25%)
    • researching learning and development options for new innovations or opportunities (22%)
    • talking to a business colleague (18%) because SBOs prefer advice to come from people who understand their issues
  • barriers to accessing support: the main barrier for SBOs seeking support is the cost (54%), lack of time (46%), and service availability in business hours (23%) 
  • impact of the recent crises:
    • the main source of stress (31%) reported by SBOs in response to the bushfires and COVID‑19 outbreak was a downturn in their business
    • despite this,17% of SBOs said that they had found some growth opportunity since COVID‑19  
  • stigma: SBOs perceive mental illness as a difficult issue to address, 48% of SBOs think they will be treated poorly if they disclosed they had a mental illness

This report has increased our knowledge of mental ill‑health issues affecting SBOs and helps to inform policy development and further studies.