Being self-employed can be hugely rewarding, but it can also take its toll, especially when it comes to mental health. The self-employed typically deal with greater financial uncertainty and insecurity than their PAYG counterparts. It’s also usual for the self-employed to take greater risks and work longer hours, which often negatively affects other aspects of their lives. These factors and more can and do severely impact upon the mental wellbeing of many of Australia’s self-employed.
A report by leading mental health charity Everymind found that Australian small business owners were more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety than then general population. According to the report, some of the ‘stressors’ which contribute most to poor mental health include long working hours, financial stress and feeling obliged to work when ill.
And while many mental health charities, government agencies and other organisations have worked hard to raise awareness and reduce the stigma, the inability to effectively deal with mental health issues in the workplace remains a huge concern.
A 2018 KPMG-Mental Health Australia report found that mental health issues in the workplace cost the Australian economy $12.8 billion annually. Almost $10 billion of this is due to ‘presenteeism’, which refers to reduced output as a result of poor mental wellbeing. Presenteeism is particularly acute among Australia’s self-employed, many of who feel that they can’t afford to take time off work.
However, despite making up a large part of Australia’s workforce, Australia’s self-employed have yet to receive the same consideration as others in the workplace, even though more than half of all self-employed Aussies (1.5 million people) do not employ anyone. Interest groups such as the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) have lobbied the Department of Health, the Australian Human Rights Commission and other bodies to recognise the mental health needs of the self-employed.
Fortunately, there is reason for optimism. In December 2018, the federal government announced over $3.6 million in funding to help focus on the mental health of the self-employed. Minister for Small Business Michaelia Cash acknowledged that ‘current workplace mental health resources are not always suitable for small business owners’ and signaled the government’s intent to support mechanisms that ‘cater to small and family businesses of all sizes’[i].
Of the more than $3.6 million in funding, over $3 million was used to expand Everymind’s ‘Ahead for Business’ program, which aims to help small business owners with any mental health issues they or others may have. The government’s acknowledgement of this important issue was welcomed by many, including COSBOA Chief Executive Peter Strong, who described it as ‘a long time coming’.
While the government’s funding and statements are steps in the right direction, there is still more to do to recognise the many mental health issues that Australia’s self-employed workers face on a regular basis.
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