By: • 9 months ago •

While I may have a few decades of experience as a business coach, I’m not qualified in the area of mental health. That said, I’ve learned a bit about some of the triggers and as coaches we can do much to help our small business clients avoid a potentially damaging state of mind.

“There is no health, without mental health”

So said the World Health Organisation in their 2001 World Health Report and who can disagree with that?

They go on to say:

“Mental health enables individuals to function well in life and at work. It is the foundation of wellbeing in both individuals and in the community, and is vital for success in the workplace.”

So how widespread is this issue within the small business sector? Good question. In truth the jury is out on that one as the full extent has yet to be totally exposed. But the signs are not good.

While Canada arguably leads the way, in terms of support and resources, Australia does not lag far behind. We have a number of programs and organisations working on improving understanding and developing avenues of support.

In 2016, while heading up Flying Solo, I was fortunate to participate (albeit in a miniscule way) to a project run by Heads Up, an initiative of beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance.

Later the same year, I took part in a roundtable discussion conducted by the Australian Tax Office regarding their innovative program of support for small business owners struggling with mental health issues.

So yes, our nation is firmly on the case. As coaches, we should champion the cause too.

Be hyper-vigilant

In our role, we often get to see and hear things that may be shielded or downright hidden from others.

Thanks to the growing wellbeing research within the small business sector, we know that signs problems may be waiting around the next corner are many and varied. As coaches we need to be on the lookout.

Perhaps you have a client who is working extraordinarily long hours to get the business off the ground, or continually responding to emails and messages at the cost of ‘down time’. This blurring of the boundaries between work and home can start innocently but unchecked quickly spirals into a situation that can impact friendships and relationships.

Many business owners feel alone and isolated, often having no-one to turn to who ‘understands’ the demands of running a small business. Hopefully that’s a gap you’re firmly plugging already. If not, is it time to suggest joining some meetup groups or networking organisations.

There’s little better than a table of like-minded people to settle a worried mind.

Cash flow and other financial issues; chasing payments and constantly prospecting for new work all take their toll. Add to these the demands of administrative and government regulations, staffing problems and so on and it’s not hard to see where overwhelm grows and mental health is under threat.

Further specific symptoms we need to be alert to include:

● Hearing that our client is increasingly struggling to concentrate on tasks

● Signs of a growing sensitivity to frustration

● Repeated references to fatigue and lack of energy

● Talk of emotional outbursts and anger episodes

● A growing reliance on alcohol

● A tendency to avoid decision-making

● A withdrawal from social interactions

“Houston, we have a problem.” Now what?

Caught early and with sufficient discussion and strategising, our coaching work should contribute to a noticeable easing of many of these challenges.

However, if such is not the case and unless you are qualified and proficient working in this space, this is the time to speak up to your client and clearly establish the boundaries of your expertise.

In a couple of instances in my work, I have recommended to clients that as a ‘priority assignment’ a review of this section of the Heads Up website be undertaken. In subsequent conversations this created a valuable discussion topic that led to positive action. I maintained my role and opened the door to more fitting support.

Other resources to better understand this topic and help guide your clients are:

• The Heads Up website -

• The work of Mental Health advocates, Leanne Faulkner and Sharon Chisholm

• The research from Super Friend and this section of Flying Solo.

Robert Gerrish is the founder of Flying Solo and author of the new bestseller, The 1-Minute Commute published in mid-2018 by Pan Macmillan.

He works one-on-one with a small group of independents, presents at conferences and events and hosts the Rekindle podcast.

Read more of his work at

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