The mental health of UK’s self-employed is in jeopardy

A third of SME owners reveal they are surviving on less than 5 hours sleep a night on average, as stress, anxiety and depression cripple small business owners across the country. The recent survey of 1,070 small business owners by small business insurance provider Simply Business has uncovered the full extent of the mental health challenges faced by the UK’s self-employed.

With Mental Health at Work, they have uncovered the full extent of the mental health challenges they face - and it paints a worrying picture.

As the UK recognises World Mental Health Day (Tuesday, 10 October), half of SME owners say they have experienced poor mental health over the past 12 months –  a 124% increase compared with the national average.

With SME owners facing the cost-of-living crisis, record inflation and rising prices, four in ten (41%) admit ‘financial worries’ are having the single biggest impact on their mental health.

Small business owners are finding themselves working harder and longer in a climate that offers little support. The survey of over 1,000 SME owners found that one in three are working more than 46 hours a week, one-third (32%) survive on less than five hours of sleep a night on average and three-quarters (73%) take fewer than 20 days of holiday per year.

Moreover, burnout affects 33% of owners, with 38% experiencing depression, and 59% grappling with anxiety.

When asked, a staggering nine in 10 (90%) said that they believe the government is not currently doing enough to support the mental health of the self-employed, with small business owners unable to claim the same rights as employees when it comes to statutory sick pay and holiday entitlement.

CASE STUDY: Serena Fordham, Founder of community interest company ProspHER shared the complexity of running a small business and the toll it can take on one's mental health: “Being self-employed does require an ability to work without barriers or parameters. As a result, the quality of your personal life is directly linked to the success of your business, and the wellbeing of your employees and customers feels fully on your shoulders. Though you might have the passion, an extraordinary amount of effort is required to get things off the ground and keep things going, which can really take its toll."

Bea Montoya, Chief Operating Officer at Simply Business, commented: “The worrying state of small business owners’ mental health has been laid bare in our recent research – with over half suffering from poor mental health in the last 12 months alone. During a cost of living crisis, the self-employed are working at capacity. Long hours, rare breaks and sleepless nights are leaving many on the brink of burnout.

“And the situation should concern us all. Small businesses are vital to both our economic recovery and the prosperity of our communities, and this will only compound the challenges of an increasingly economically inactive population.

“From financial worries and stress, to isolation and insomnia – it’s critical that the real people behind the country’s SMEs are given the support they need. That’s why we’ve partnered with Mental Health at Work to raise awareness of the challenges facing this audience, and create tailored resources designed to help.”

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by leading mental health charity Mind, and has donated £100,000 to support the mental health of the UK’s self-employed.

Sarah Merrington, Programme Manager at Mental Health at Work said “We know that small businesses and the self-employed are often overlooked when it comes to public workplace mental health initiatives. These communities face unique challenges, and the events of recent years have only made it more difficult for these small organisations and business owners to prioritise wellbeing at work.

“Results from our survey in partnership with Simply Business shine a light on how crucial it is that we act, right now, to support these groups. The results expose a mental health crisis, with over half of respondents struggling with poor mental health in the last year, many experiencing insomnia, working long hours, and very rarely taking breaks - it’s a recipe for burnout.

“Simply Business and Mental Health at Work are working together to make a real difference in addressing this issue. Together, we're providing accessible, bespoke support for small business owners and the self-employed, to enable them to make positive changes to their mental health. This World Mental Health Day, and every day, it’s important that small business owners and the self-employed can access support - whenever they need it.”