UK SME owners say Covid-19 has negatively impacted their mental health

Stressed SME owner

As the UK shines a light on mental health, four in five SME owners say their mental health has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 – with one in five describing their mental wellbeing as being in a ‘bad’ place.

A study of SME owners from across the country released to mark UK Mental Health Week, also revealed that almost half are worried about their mental health.

In the last 12 months alone, a third have experienced depression, three in five have been affected by stress and over half have suffered from anxiety. On top of this, more than half of small business owners have also had problems with their sleep.

Additionally, over a quarter of SME owners have felt low self-esteem in the past 12 months and a fifth have experienced loneliness.

Worryingly, 82% of self-employed people in total have suffered with poor mental health in the last 12 months – a year in which many small businesses were either forced to close or have been significantly impacted by various lockdowns and restrictions.

The vast majority – if not all – said that any symptoms of poor mental health have either been caused by or made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pressures of running a small business during Covid-19

Small business owners have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19, with the pandemic – and the various lockdowns, restrictions, and changing regulations that have come with it – causing severe disruption to business operations and therefore income.

A third of small business owners have had to close their business at various points of the pandemic, and well over two fifths are operating at a reduced capacity. Just one fifth of self-employed people have been able to continue work as usual during the pandemic.

It’s no surprise that running a business has had an impact on self-employed people’s wellbeing.

Over a third have struggled to switch off, one in five say it has affected their confidence and more than a fifth say it has negatively impacted relationships with family or friends.

What’s more, almost a third are feeling demotivated to continue with or restart their business, and one in five have fallen out of love with their business or the industry they work in.

With six million SMEs in the UK, accounting for over 99% of all businesses, 33% of employment and 21% of all economic turnover, this has the potential to hugely impact our economy and local communities.

What’s causing their poor mental health?

Understandably, financial worries are having the biggest negative impact on small business owners’ mental health – with two in three saying it has negatively affected their mental wellbeing in the past 12 months.

This was closely followed by not being able to see family or friends, uncertainty surrounding their business, and stress.

Almost one third of SME owners cited isolation or loneliness as a factor in their poor mental health, and almost a quarter said a lack of physical exercise has also affected them.

Reasons to be encouraged

Despite the numerous challenges facing them, many small businesses remain optimistic about what the future holds.

Two in five are optimistic about the economy picking up, and well over a third feel hopeful about the future of their business, and jobs and orders picking back up.

A third are feeling positive about their business’ ability to adapt to new conditions, and a fifth are looking forward to learning new skills.

Taking steps to improve wellbeing

It’s also reassuring to know that many are taking deliberate steps to improve their mental health.

Two in three are spending more time outside and in nature where possible, while a further 64% are exercising more frequently and dedicating more time to connecting with friends and family.

A third have used reading as a tool to improve their wellbeing, while 27% have turned to gardening. Other activities which small business owners say help their wellbeing include mindfulness and meditation and exploring arts and crafts.

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, who commissioned the research, commented: “Few have been hit harder by the effects of the pandemic than the self-employed. Livelihoods are on the line as a result of Covid-19, with small business owners facing an unprecedented amount of pressure. Clearly this has had a huge impact on their wellbeing – the scale of which can be seen in the results of this study. 82% of SME owners report poor mental health, and 55% are suffering from anxiety.

“It’s a situation which should concern us all because small businesses are crucial to our economy and communities – and will be central to our collective recovery. While the phased reopening from lockdown will have brought a level of relief and optimism for many, it’s crucial that we continue to protect small businesses – and, crucially, the individuals behind them – as much as we can.

“At Simply Business, we feel compelled to highlight this issue and provide practical support where we can. Insuring over 800,000 small business owners and landlords helps us understand the specific challenges being faced by the self-employed, and the reasons behind this concerning data.

“Financial worries, dealing with stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep are just some of the challenges small business owners have faced. That’s why – in addition to shining a light on the emerging wellbeing crisis among the small business community – we’ve partnered with a range of experts to offer free wellbeing tips and resources tailored to the self-employed.”