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Entrepreneurs starting to take small steps to care for their mental health, but far too many are still struggling according to BDC’s new survey

Montréal, May 8, 2024The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, today released new survey results on the state of mental health among Canada’s small business owners. BDC’s sixth annual survey shows entrepreneurs have made small improvements in taking better care of their mental health, but far too many struggle in silence.

Some of the study’s findings include:

  • While 39% of surveyed entrepreneurs have expressed feeling very satisfied, 37% were only somewhat satisfied with their mental health, and 24% of them are not doing well.
  • Owners of younger businesses (38%), younger business owners (35%) and women (32%) were more likely to be dissatisfied with their mental health.
  • A small increase in entrepreneurs taking active steps to improve their mental health. The survey found a 4 percentage points increase in taking more vacation time.
  • More entrepreneurs sought professional help, at 38%, up 3 percentage points since February 2023. The groups who were more likely to seek professional help were business owners that were younger, from Quebec, operating for less than 5 years, members of a diversity group, women, or owners of larger businesses.
  • Work/life balance is the main stress factor at 51% (-3 points vs February 2023), just before inflation at 48% (-6 points) and maintaining cash flow or profitability at 46% (-7 points).

“We are heartened to see business owners taking steps to take better care of their mental health, but 24% are still struggling and that number is far too high given their importance to Canada’s economy. One of the recent initiatives we took was to take the plunge into unfamiliar waters to create a pilot program to make mental health support more accessible and affordable for small business owners,” said Isabelle Hudon, President and CEO of BDC.

While 40% of respondents said that nothing prevents them from seeking mental health services or care, a quarter indicated that the cost of mental health care is a barrier. This signals a need for more initiatives such as the pilot program that BDC launched in January. In the program’s pilot phase, BDC provides clients with three hours of free virtual therapy through GreenShield Health, the health services division of GreenShield, a not-for-profit health and benefits company. Early results from a very small sample indicate that participating clients have experienced a 44% improvement (reduction) in the severity of their symptoms after 3 hours of therapy and are highly satisfied with the service. BDC will continue to monitor the program and assess its impact.

BDC uses the World Health Organization well-being index (WHO-5) to assess Canadian business owners’ mental health. Recognized worldwide but rarely used with entrepreneurs, this self-reporting questionnaire includes five questions. The average score obtained by surveyed entrepreneurs in this recent survey was 59 out of 100, just above the threshold of 50 out of 100 or less, which is deemed a low level of well-being. It will be made available on bdc.ca so that more entrepreneurs can assess their well-being.

Business owners who are struggling to cope with the many stress factors of entrepreneurship can often miss the warning signs to consider getting help. For the following entrepreneurs – who are mental health advocates and had the courage to share their story in our video series with Unsinkable, a mental health charitable organization – this is how it happened:

“Entrepreneurship can feel isolating and overwhelming, especially when the fate of your business and employees' livelihoods rest on your shoulders. Despite facing challenges over 35 years, this one brought me to my breaking point. Seeking help was difficult, as I felt pressured to appear strong. Eventually, I sought medical assistance, but even that didn't alleviate the confusion and despair. It took a suicide attempt for me to realize the seriousness of my mental health struggles. Seeking emergency help marked the start of my recovery, and I'm thankful to be alive today.”

Peter Neal, Co-Founder, Neal Brothers Foods

“Being an entrepreneur means that you experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, sometimes within the same day. I remember there was a period of time last year where I was feeling so burnt out. I had just finished travelling back to back for investor pitches, trade shows, demo days, and more. I woke up feeling exhausted no matter how much sleep I got. I felt anxious and little decisions like what to wear or eat became so draining. I quickly learned that in order to be a good entrepreneur and to build a sustainable business, you need to take care of yourself first. You need to develop sustainable habits and not be afraid to speak to someone about what you're going through like a therapist or friend."

Nadia Ladak, CEO, Marlow 

BDC’s survey on business owners’ mental health was conducted among 1,502 small business owners across Canada between February 19 and March 5, 2024. BDC has been conducting annual surveys on mental health since 2018 to contribute to a better understanding of the mental health of business owners across the country and to raise awareness of this issue.

To find out more about the latest study, or for mental health and well-being resources, visit bdc.ca/wellbeing. BDC wants to help pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable business ecosystem. This aligns perfectly with our values, united for entrepreneurs and courageously impactful.

About BDC

As Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, BDC is a partner of choice for all entrepreneurs looking to access the financing and advice they need to build their businesses and tackle the big challenges of our time. Our investment arm, BDC Capital, offers a wide range of risk capital solutions to help grow the country’s most innovative firms. We are one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers and Canada’s Best Diversity Employers. BDC was the first financial institution in Canada to receive the B Corp certification in 2013 and it is the B Corp movement’s national partner in Canada. For more information on BDC’s products and services and to consult free tools, templates and articles, visit bdc.ca or join BDC on social media.


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