Across Australia, it’s Mental Health Week. This takes place in October each year to highlight the essential message that looking after our mental health and that of our colleagues, friends and family members should be a number one priority – at all times of the year.
In Australia, about eight people take their own life each day. Some 65 thousand people attempt suicide each year. And if those numbers aren’t hair raising enough, suicide is reported to be the biggest killer of Australians under 44 years – and men account for around 75 per cent of all suicide deaths.
These statistics are of considerable relevance to those of us in small business. Here in Australia, small businesses account for nearly 98 per cent of all companies. Around 80 per cent of these will fail within the first 18 months, possibly because of the unique set of pressures business owners face. These are exacerbated by a frequent lack of proper support structure and a vulnerability to mental health problems which over one third of us have a predisposition for.
Consider the obstacles to success in small business: financial pressures, high work demands and long working hours, the challenge of maintaining business growth and long-term viability, and too often a lack of focus on self-care and work-life boundaries. Sadly, it’s no surprise that many business owners contribute to the statistics above.
THE BILLY GOAT STORY
Leanne Faulkner is the founder of Billie Goat Soap, a successful Australian start-up launched in 2004 using milk from her own goats to create beautiful soaps. At its height, her business was turning over $2.4 million annually. But when the global financial crisis bit, the business began to struggle, and Faulkner internalised its deficiencies as her own personal failings.
Appearing on this week’s ABC RN Life Matters program, she said, "A bad day became a bad week became a bad month and the bad month became chronic. At the worst I ever felt, I had some very, very dark thoughts and I just really wanted to hang in there for my family and I was starting to get quite scared.”
For Faulkner, the dream of working for herself - having flexible hours and living the high life - wasn’t in fact the reality. Long working weeks, the grind of staying afloat and the long periods away from her family were all at odds with what she associated with the entrepreneurial life.
Faulkner was diagnosed with situational depression triggered from her working conditions, and spent three months away from work. It was hard to ask for help, she explains. “It took me a bit of time to get up the courage to go and talk with someone. In my head it was, if I actually go and do that then I'm really admitting that I can't cope.”
After selling her business in early 2012, Faulkner now works as a mental health advocate for small business owners. “Nowadays I still get stressed and anxious at times, but I understand I have to come first in that process. In the past, when things were hectic at work, I didn't have time to exercise, work was always more important ... I'm much more selective with what I do and don't do these days.”
ARE YOU OK?
There is real need for all of us to ease this burden and look out for those we know who may be labouring under untold pressures. Perhaps we are a small business owner or an entrepreneur – perhaps we work for one, shop with one, or have a partner or a parent who is one?
R U OK?, a Australian national suicide prevention charity dedicated to encouraging everyone to connect meaningfully, says ‘A simple hello could lead to a million things’.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull agrees. ‘R u ok? Four letters, but they can save a life.’
These four small letters can resonate with someone who might be struggling with the demands upon them and their business. We encourage you to check-in with them and listen. It’s that easy. We’ve all got what it takes to follow these steps - and we all have an obligation to look out for one another.
Great leadership is about looking out for the person to your left while supporting the person to your right, and not forgetting about the people above and below. Let’s remember that this week – and the rest of the year as well.