World Mental Health Day: 82% of small business owners say mental health declined due to Covid-19

  • Four in five (82%) small business owners say their mental health declined due to Covid-19 
  • One in five (19%) SME owners say their mental health is in a ‘bad’ place due to Covid-19
  • A third (30%) experienced depression, three in five (62%) have been affected by stress and over half (55%) have suffered from anxiety
  • But SME owners retain a sense of positivity about things to come – two in five (39%) are optimistic about the economy picking up, and well over a third feel hopeful about the future of their business (36%) and jobs and orders picking back up (35%)
  • Small business owners have been turning to exercise, nature, and gardening to support their wellbeing 

As the world shines a light on mental health, four in five (82%) SME owners say their mental health has declined due to Covid-19 – with one in five (19%) describing their mental wellbeing as being in a ‘bad’ place. 

The study of small business owners from across the country by small business insurance provider Simply Business, released to mark World Mental Health Day, also revealed that almost half (47%) are worried about their mental health.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a third (30%) have experienced depression, three in five (62%) felt the effects of stress and over half (55%) suffered from anxiety. On top of this, more than half of small business owners (51%) have also had problems with their sleep.

Additionally, more than a quarter (27%) of self-employed people have suffered with low self-esteem since the beginning of the pandemic, while a fifth (19%) experienced loneliness – heightened by various lockdowns.

Worryingly, 82% of self-employed people in total have suffered with poor mental health since the beginning of the pandemic – a time when thousands of small businesses were either forced to close or have been significantly impacted by various lockdowns and restrictions.

The vast majority – if not all – said that any symptoms of poor mental health have either been caused by or made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pressures of running a small business during Covid-19

Small business owners have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19, with the pandemic – and the various lockdowns, restrictions, and changing regulations that have come with it – causing severe disruption to business operations and therefore income.

While restrictions have lifted and small businesses are in a post-recovery phase, many are still working to recoup lost earnings from Covid-19 – which amount to £126.6bn in total for UK SMEs.


A third (33%) of small business owners have had to close their business at various points of the pandemic, and well over two fifths (44%) are operating at a reduced capacity. Just one fifth (21%) of self-employed people have been able to continue work as usual during the pandemic.

It’s no surprise that running a business has had an impact on self-employed people’s wellbeing.
Over a third (35%) have struggled to switch off, one in five (21%) say it has affected their confidence and more than a fifth (22%) say it has negatively impacted relationships with family or friends.

What’s more, almost a third (28%) are feeling demotivated to continue with or restart their business, and one in five (18%) have fallen out of love with their business or the industry they work in. 

With six million SMEs in the UK, accounting for over 99% of all businesses, 33% of employment and 21% of all economic turnover, this has the potential to hugely impact our economy and local communities.

What’s causing their poor mental health?

Understandably, financial worries are having the biggest negative impact on small business owners’ mental health – with two in three (61%) saying it has negatively affected their mental wellbeing in the past 12 months.

This was closely followed by not being able to see family or friends during lockdowns (60%), uncertainty surrounding their business (44%), and stress (48%).

Almost one third (28%) of SME owners cited isolation or loneliness as a factor in their poor mental health, and almost a quarter (24%) said a lack of physical exercise also affected them during the height of the pandemic.

Reasons to be encouraged 

Despite the numerous challenges facing them, many small businesses remain optimistic about what the future holds. 

Two in five (39%) are optimistic about the economy picking up, and well over a third feel hopeful about the future of their business (36%), and jobs and orders picking back up (35%).

A third (31%) are feeling positive about their business’ ability to adapt to new conditions, and a fifth (21%) are looking forward to learning new skills.

Taking steps to improve wellbeing

It’s also reassuring to know that many are taking deliberate steps to improve their mental health.

Two in three (67%) are spending more time outside and in nature where possible, while a further 64% are exercising more frequently and dedicating more time to connecting with friends and family (also 64%). 

A third (32%) have used reading as a tool to improve their wellbeing, while 27% have turned to gardening. Other activities which small business owners say help their wellbeing include mindfulness and meditation (25%) and exploring arts and crafts (21%).

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, commented: “Few have been hit harder by the effects of the pandemic than the self-employed. Livelihoods are on the line as a result of Covid-19, with small business owners facing an unprecedented amount of pressure. 

“Clearly this has had a huge impact on their wellbeing – the scale of which can be seen in the results of this study. 82% of SME owners report poor mental health, and 55% are suffering from anxiety.

“It’s a situation which should concern us all because small businesses are vital to our economy and communities – and will be central to our collective recovery. We must continue to protect small businesses – and, crucially, the individuals behind them – as much as we can.

“At Simply Business, we feel compelled to highlight this issue and provide practical support where we can. Insuring over 840,000 small business owners and landlords helps us understand the specific challenges being faced by the self-employed, and the reasons behind this concerning data.

“Financial worries, dealing with stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep are just some of the challenges small business owners have faced. That’s why – in addition to shining a light on the emerging wellbeing crisis among the small business community – we’ve partnered with a range of experts to offer free wellbeing tips and resources tailored to the self-employed.”

Simply Business has launched a Better for Business wellbeing hub for SME owners – working with a range of experts to bring free tailored resources and wellbeing tips to the self-employed.

See the full report – Better for Business: a report into the wellbeing of small business owners

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