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As a friend, family member or business colleague you can make an important contribution to someone’s recovery from mental ill-health.

Working in small business can sometimes be isolating and when people experience challenges with their mental health, they can be tempted to isolate themselves further.

The practical, emotional and social support that a small business owner gets from others around them can be the key to helping them to stay at work or return to work while they recover.

But supporting a small business owner who is experiencing mental ill-health can also have its challenges, and you might be wondering what the ‘right’ or ‘best’ thing to do is.

Here is some helpful information and tips to help you navigate the support role.

Support from family, friends and colleagues is valuable

For many people experiencing mental ill-health, their family, friends or trusted business contacts are often the first people they will feel comfortable talking to about what is going on.

Regardless of your relationship to the person, providing positive support as they work to manage their business and recover from mental ill-health can make all the difference. 

There are a range of supports you can provide to someone experiencing mental ill-health.

As a friend or family member

Assisting the person to manage their ill-health: This might include helping them to identify warning signs or triggers in the home or at work that might exacerbate their stress or worries. It could also include supporting them through the treatment process and possibly going with them to appointments or helping them to find useful information online.

Providing practical assistance at home or within the business: This may include taking on more household or business responsibilities for the person, so they have time to focus on their recovery. It may also mean assisting them to liaise with key business services and supports to better manage the business while they are focussing on their health.

Giving ongoing emotional support: This could include talking openly about mental health and making sure they know you are available to listen. Encouraging exercise, a healthy diet and involvement in social activities can also assist the person with their recovery.

Managing a change in the relationship

Relationships can change for a period of time when someone experiences a problem with their mental health. This can be challenging at times for the small business owner and for you as someone trying to support them.

Mental ill-health is only a part of the person’s experience, so try to separate the challenges they are experiencing from them as an individual.

Staying positive

We all thrive on feedback, it helps us to monitor and reflect on our own behaviour, but it can be particularly important for people experiencing depression and/or anxiety, as they often lose their confidence in making decisions. You may need to look for small changes or milestones that have been met, or look for effort and recognise it, and encourage them further.

Unhelpful activities

Be mindful that there are some things that will be unhelpful when someone is recovering from mental ill-health. Some unsupportive activities include:

  • pressuring the person to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘cheer up’
  • staying away or avoiding the person – people need connections, not space
  • encouraging them to wipe out how they’re feeling with drugs and alcohol
  • assuming the problem will just go away.

Telling others and getting support

The business owner themselves needs to be able to decide who they tell about what is going on for them. While mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and substance use disorder are very common in Australia, people can still be concerned about disclosing exactly what is happening to others. When someone owns a business, they can be even more reluctant to do that for fear that their business will be affected.

It is important that the individual has someone to talk to about what is going on, but it is also important for you to get support if you need it as well. If you are close to the person, you may be experiencing sadness, feelings of loss, or constant worry about what is going to happen to them and the business.

This story is sponsored by Ahead for Business. 2020 has been one of the most stressful years on record for business owners, their managers, employees and families. If you or someone close to you is experiencing challenging emotions, please visit aheadforbusiness.org.au The site contains practical strategies and tools to assist people to regulate their feelings, and also provides access to a range of mental health resources.

Ahead for Business is an initiative of Everymind and funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

If you are in need of support for your mental health, services are available 24/7:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

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Clare Loewenthal

Clare Loewenthal

Clare is an author, business commentator and passionate contributor to Dynamic Business. She was the Founder and Publisher of Dynamic Small Business magazine, which became Australia’s largest small business publication.

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