When Being Your Own Boss Comes at a Cost

There are numbers to crunch, problems to solve, and deadlines to make. That’s the life of an entrepreneur. The work never really ends. And unlike a typical 9-5, the lines between work and life are often blurred. Results from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s recent study titled, Going it Alone: The Mental health and Well-being of Canada’s Entrepreneurs, suggest that Canada’s entrepreneurs are struggling with their mental health.

As Jack, a photographer in the study, said “…there is no end. You could always be doing more, you could either be doing business development or you could be, you know, taking education programs to improve what you’re currently doing.”

The study, supported by BDC, surveyed and interviewed 500 entrepreneurs across Canada and found that small business owners are experiencing fatigue, depressed mood and high levels of stress. In fact, about two thirds (62 per cent) report feeling depressed at least once a week, and nearly half (46 per cent) say that mental health issues interfere with their ability to work.

We rely on entrepreneurs in Canada to grow the economy, create new jobs and to find creative solutions to the problems we experience. In fact, 60 per cent of Canada’s working population is either self-employed or working for an entrepreneur. That’s 11.9 million people, or roughly a third of Canada’s entire population. In Saskatchewan specifically, entrepreneur companies represent 99 per cent of all business in the province, with 88 per cent of those companies employing 1 to 4 people.

These entrepreneurs are tenacious, determined, hardworking and seemingly tireless. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling, and in some cases, burning out.

Most (67 per cent) entrepreneurs are stressed about their business’s cash flow and more than a third (39 per cent) are stressed about fulfilling their responsibilities at work and at home. More than half (54 per cent) tell us that that stress impacts their concentration at work, that they experience feelings of inadequacy (51 per cent) and that they feel stress due to high self-expectations (34 per cent).

And yet, 78 per cent of respondents say they wouldn’t seek professional help. It’s an idea that’s hard to understand until you talk with someone from the entrepreneur community. Meet Leanne Huvenaars, a local Regina, SK, entrepreneur and co-owner of My 1440 Matters Project.

“As a business owner, it’s very difficult to talk about your personal struggles with peers. No one wants to admit their struggling mentally,” says Huvenaars.

Leanne goes on to explain, “Your competitors are listening to how you’re doing. You’re not going to share if it’s tight, if it’s rough. Because then they’re going to turn around and share that with someone. And then that person might share that with someone who was thinking of doing business with you.”

In fact, 36 per cent of the entrepreneurs surveyed in the Going It Alone Report agreed that stigma around mental health was the main reason they would not seek help. That is one reason Leanne suggests online tools like digital forums or online counselling/coaching could help. Not only can they be anonymous, they’re also non-local and can be accessed outside of regular business hours.

“Running a business is no easy feat, but there are ways to better support entrepreneurs and help them thrive,” says Fardous Hosseiny, Interim National CEO, CMHA. This means developing flexible mental health supports, creating tools to improve work-life balance, including mental health in entrepreneurship education, and strengthening research on entrepreneur mental health. “What this also means is working together to make space for entrepreneurs to be vulnerable,” says Hosseiny.“We need to pay increased attention to entrepreneur mental health and well-being in Canada and shift the popular view of entrepreneurs from that of ‘tireless visionary’ or ‘lonely hero’ to one that supports the ability to ask for help when needed.”