Four in five small business owners tell us they’re experiencing poor mental health

Research released by iwoca and Mental Health UK today shines a spotlight on the mental health of small business owners.


According to a new study conducted by Mental Health UK and the small business lender iwoca. four in five small business owners report experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year. Though remarkably, just under half of those surveyed have never accessed mental health support during their lives.


Key findings 

  • 80% reported 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 males
  • Despite this, 44% of small business owners have never accessed mental health support

The common causes

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


A disparity by gender

The figures suggest a slight gender disparity between SME owners, with 86% of female business owners experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year, compared to 77% of male business owners.

The impact of Covid-19

The pandemic 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.

Unsurprisingly, 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.

Angela Bare, owner of a vintage clothing and shoe shop in York, told us how the pandemic has affected her business and lifestyle: “During the first lockdown one of my main suppliers came knocking for money and I thought that was it. My brain doesn’t switch off due to the pressure and stress which means I’m not sleeping well at all… 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.”


Almost half unlikely to access mental health support

Despite the prevalence among the sector, almost half (44%) of those we spoke told us they 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. This was a view shared by Angela, who told us: “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.”

When pressed on why they hadn’t sought help, just under a third (31%) of owners said they didn’t know where to go for help or were unaware support existed.

Tailored support for small business owners launching soon

 There is a risk of small business owners’ mental health worsening without the right support in place. We are delighted to be working alongside iwoca to respond to the evidence from our study to develop a tailored mental health support product for small business owners.

One of the first of its kind, this 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.

We have made so much progress as a society in promoting the importance of good mental health. 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.

– James Dear, Co-Founder, iwoca

It’s an incredibly tough time for small business owners, 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.

– Brian Dow, Chief Executive, Mental Health UK

Mental Health UK and iwoca conducted an online survey of 984 small business owners. This research will be used to ascertain what small business owners mental healthcare needs are and how best to deliver them support. For further details on the research, please contact [email protected].

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