In the relentless pursuit of success, entrepreneurs often find themselves immersed in the day-to-day challenges of running a business, inadvertently neglecting their mental health. While dedication and hard work are undeniably vital in entrepreneurship, it is equally crucial for business owners to prioritise their well-being.

According to Shawn Theunissen, founder of Property Point, one of South Africa’s most successful business accelerator programmes, the upcoming World Mental Health Day on October 10th is an opportune moment to shed light on this pressing issue.

He states that over the last 15 years of working with entrepreneurs, it is evident that mental health issues have a significant influence on small business owners.

“Small businesses have confronted immense challenges, compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Theunissen. “Economic downturns and business disruptions due to factors such as load shedding, looting, flooding, and recent explosions in Johannesburg have all significantly impacted the revenue of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These external pressures have intensified mental health challenges among entrepreneurs.”

Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, which influences our ideas and actions, as well as how we cope with stress and interact with others. Neglecting one’s mental health could result in grave consequences.

According to a 2021 study conducted by Barkley University, a staggering 72% of entrepreneurs experience the direct impact of mental health issues, which can also affect their families. Additionally, 49% of entrepreneurs have been diagnosed with related mental health illnesses, as per the same study. A separate 2019 study by Modern Globe found that 30% of entrepreneurs suffered from depression, while 29% were diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Theunissen identifies the four most frequent mental health concerns for small business owners, emphasising the need of addressing mental health issues, reducing stigma, and encouraging open dialogues about mental health in South Africa.

* Stress and Lack of Self-Care: Entrepreneurs often bear the weight of managing a business, meeting financial goals, and handling responsibilities. Neglecting self-care, including sleep, nutrition, and relaxation, can exacerbate these stressors, leading to burnout and reduced mental resilience. To address this, Theunissen advises entrepreneurs to take regular breaks. “This allows entrepreneurs to recharge their mental and emotional batteries, reducing stress levels and preventing burnout,” he says.

* Doubt and Uncertainty: The entrepreneurial journey is rife with uncertainties and no guaranteed outcomes. This uncertainty can breed self-doubt, leading to anxiety and insecurity. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to embrace uncertainty as part of their journey and build a support network of mentors, advisors, and fellow entrepreneurs who can provide guidance and reassurance during challenging times.

* Social Isolation: Entrepreneurship can be isolating, with the burden often falling solely on the business owner’s shoulders. Long hours and decision-making in isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and social disconnection, harming one’s mental health. To combat social isolation, entrepreneurs should seek networking opportunities, engage with peer groups, and find mentors to foster a sense of belonging.

* Shame and Stigma: The pressure to project an image of success can lead entrepreneurs to hide their struggles, fearing that admitting their weaknesses may harm their reputations. This facade perpetuates shame and the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Advocating for authenticity and emphasising that seeking help is a sign of strength can break down these barriers.

In the high-stakes world of entrepreneurship, it is crucial to recognise that success should not come at the expense of one’s mental health. The statistics paint a stark picture, underscoring the urgent need for entrepreneurs to prioritise their well-being.

Theunissen says entrepreneurs must remember the importance of raising mental health awareness and cultivating mental wellbeing in their businesses as they navigate the tumultuous journey of building and expanding their businesses.

“By addressing stress, doubt, social isolation, and the stigma surrounding mental health, entrepreneurs can forge a healthier, more sustainable path to success. In doing so, they will protect their own well-being and build stronger, more resilient businesses that can weather the storms of entrepreneurship. As we approach World Mental Health Day, remember that mental well-being is an invaluable investment for entrepreneurs and society,” Theunissen concludes.