Why I am cautiously optimistic for entrepreneurs’ mental health in 2022

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When it comes to the hurdles of the last two years, Canadian entrepreneurs have shown incredible resilience. But the COVID-19 pandemic has also made this much clear: that we all need to take better care of ourselves and accept we can’t be at our top all the time.

BDC has conducted regular surveys on entrepreneurs over their mental health since 2020. In every survey we speak to more than 500 small business owners across Canada to get a picture of how they're doing in their personal and professional lives.

Today, we’re releasing our fourth report on entrepreneurs’ mental health ahead of the Canadian Mental Health Week – taking place May 2 to 8, 2022.

When we look over our last two years of data, we see that entrepreneurs’ mental health levels dip when times are tough, then climb again when the economy recovers and lockdown measures improve. This speaks to human nature's tendency to cycle through mental peaks and valleys.

While the consequences of being forced to linger in an unpleasant situation are serious, the majority of our respondents (66%) report that they’ve got the situation of running a business under control. This certainly speaks to the known resilience of entrepreneurs who, in turn, are used to those peaks and valleys.

And not everyone is affected in the same way. Consistently, over our studies, we’ve found that women, diverse groups (especially members of the LGBTQ2+ community) and younger entrepreneurs (under 35) report experiencing more challenges than entrepreneurs in other groups. These groups are most likely to report being more tired and depressed, indicating that their mental health challenges are interfering with work.

When we asked entrepreneurs what stresses them out the most, the top answer we got was “generating enough revenue”—the same as last year’s.

But beyond this perennial worry of the small business owner, we also noticed that new worries are growing. The search for supply sources is significantly up compared last year (+6), followed by the difficulties of attracting clients back to physical locations (+5).

Entrepreneurs have a lot on their minds. On any given day, the mental needle is swinging towards which worry occupies the top position. They have to find new ways of doing business within the current constraints of supply chain issues, labour shortages and an increasing competitive market.

Coping strategies are on the rise

The 2022 survey also indicates that physical activity is still the most popular means for entrepreneurs to cope with mental health challenges. Forty-eight percent of respondents say they take time out for walks, which I strongly advocate for, as believe in exercising and taking regular breaks from work. A walk outside in nature does wonders to help one gain back perspective and mental clarity; seems obvious, but still worth repeating.

We also see that taking a vacation to cope with mental health challenges has risen in popularity (+8) since 2021; understandable given the stress entrepreneurs have experienced over the last two years. They've hung on and hung on, and this year—as travel restrictions relax and people wind down from two years of ‘survival mode’—they are finally finding room to breathe and take that elusive vacation.

What the responses illustrate is that over the last two years people have increasingly learned how to help themselves by the use of coping strategies: leaning on relationships, meditating and seeking help from a professional.

Talking about mental challenges

Also encouraging is an increasing openness to talk about mental health. In this survey, two in 10 entrepreneurs said they wished to seek support from a mental health professional, which we hope means that more people are willing to address the issue and that maybe we are making progress in destigmatizing the subject. Last year, only one in 10 entrepreneurs reported the same thing.

This might show entrepreneurs are beginning to acknowledge that they’re human beings, and that it’s alright to say, "I'm struggling, and I need to take a step back." And to me, it appears that the younger generation of entrepreneurs are even more open to talking about issues around mental health.

Resetting for the future

The rewards of entrepreneurship are great, but there’s no denying that running a small business is taxing to one’s mental health. But it’s somewhat comforting to see that despite that, and the difficult two years we just went through, 81% of entrepreneurs report feeling satisfied with their overall mental health at least once a week.

To me, that number bodes well. After all, no one is at 100% all the time, week after week.

The future is unpredictable and full of surprises for everyone, not just entrepreneurs. Many of our current issues are here to stay, so whether it's the environment or the political and geopolitical context, uncertainty will be ahead of us for years to come. What we need is to learn is how to face it all with more calm and serenity.

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