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Supporting someone experiencing mental health concerns

As a friend, family member or business colleague you can make an important contribution to someone’s recovery from mental health concerns.

Working in small business can sometimes be isolating and when someone experiences challenges with their mental health, they can be tempted to isolate themselves further.

The practical, emotional and social support that a small business owner gets from others around them can be the key in helping them to stay at work or return to work while they recover.

But supporting a small business owner who is experiencing mental health concerns can also have its challenges, and you might be wondering what the ‘right’ or ‘best’ thing to do is.

Here is some helpful information and tips to help you navigate the support role.

Support from family, friends and colleagues is valuable

For many people experiencing mental health concerns, their family, friends or trusted business contacts are often the first people they will feel comfortable talking to about what is going on.

Regardless of your relationship to the person, providing positive support as they work to manage their business and recover from mental health concerns can make all the difference.

There are a range of supports you can provide to someone experiencing mental health concerns.

As a friend or family member

  • Assisting the person to manage their health concerns: This might include helping them to identify early signs and symptoms in the home or at work that might exacerbate their stress or worries. It could also include supporting them through the treatment process and possibly going with them to appointments or helping them to find useful information online.
  • Providing practical assistance at home or within the business: This may include taking on more household or business responsibilities for the person, so they have time to focus on their recovery. It may also mean assisting them to liaise with key business services and supports to better manage the business while they are focusing on their health.
  • Giving ongoing emotional support: This could include talking openly about mental health and making sure they know you are available to listen. Encouraging exercise, a healthy diet and involvement in social activities can also assist the person with their recovery.

Managing a change in the relationship

Relationships can change for a period of time when someone experiences a problem with their mental health. This can be challenging at times for the small business owner and for you as someone trying to support them.

Mental health concerns are only a part of the person’s experience, so try to separate the challenges they are experiencing from them as an individual.

Communication is key

Being able to communicate effectively is an important part of any relationship, whether it is personal connection or a business association. Improving communication skills can reduce frustration and stress on both sides.

Four basic communication skills to keep in mind are:

• Listening - Not just hearing, but actively processing what others say.

• Levelling - Giving the other person information about your thoughts and feelings, rather than expecting them to read your mind.

• Validating - Communicating to the other person that you have heard their position or opinion.

• ‘I’ statements - Taking responsibility for your own wants, thoughts and feelings rather than putting the responsibility or blame on the other person.

Staying positive

We all thrive on feedback, it helps us to monitor and reflect on our own behaviour, but it can be particularly important for people experiencing depression and/or anxiety, as they often lose their confidence in making decisions. You may need to look for small changes or milestones that have been met, or look for effort and recognise it and encourage them further.

Unhelpful activities

Be mindful that there are some things that will be unhelpful when someone is recovering from mental health concerns. Some unsupportive activities include:

  • Pressuring the person to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘cheer up’
  • Staying away or avoiding the person. People need connections, not ‘space’
  • Encouraging them to drink more or wipe out how they’re feeling with drugs and alcohol
  • Assuming the problem will just go away.

Telling others and getting support

The business owner themselves needs to decide who they tell about what is going on for them. While mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and substance use disorder are very common in Australia, people can still be concerned about disclosing what is happening. When someone owns a business, they can be even more reluctant for fear that their business will be affected.

It is important that the individual has someone to talk to about what is going on, but it is also important for you to get support if you need it. If you are close to the person, you may be experiencing sadness, feelings of loss, or constant worry about what will happen to them and the business.

Remember that looking after yourself and your mental health will help you be a good support person. Reach out to others if you need support or contact a service to talk through your worries.