Scotland is experiencing a mental health crisis. In 2022, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) supported almost 25,000 people and it is estimated that around one in three people in Scotland are affected by mental health issues in any one year.

In 2017, in recognition of this growing problem impacting our society, the Scottish Government published a 10-year strategy, outlining a vision for Scotland where mental health is prioritised, and those living with poor mental health get the help they need.

Although improvements have been made, there is a long way to go. We know that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical health, yet it’s often overlooked, particularly in business. That's where the public sector business support network, including Business Gateway, can support the work of the Scottish Government.

Business survival remains the biggest challenge in the face of ongoing economic challenges. With supply chain issues, cost of living pressures, and increased costs of doing business, small businesses are under significant strain. Our Business Gateway advisers support SMEs through important and effective start-up and growth programmes, but we have become acutely aware of the need to offer additional wellbeing support.

Operating a business can be one of the most rewarding careers, but it can also be lonely and isolating. We want to ensure that our services meet the professional and personal needs of Scottish small businesses. During the pandemic we provided additional online resources including employee wellbeing tutorials and, through partnering with Catriona Davies of Resolution Mediation Scotland, support in managing home working.

Earlier this year, we partnered with SAMH to deliver training for our advisers. Through this training, we helped support advisers to manage their own mental health, and to support and identify individuals who may be struggling, with the aim of encouraging business owners to consider their mental wellbeing, facilitate more open conversations, and signpost to appropriate resources and support services, when required.

The importance of supporting mental wellbeing extends beyond individual business owners; SMEs are the backbone of Scotland’s economy, and their success is crucial for the country.

Where the challenge lies is time. The vast majority of Scottish SMEs operate with under 10 employees and owners wear several hats, from being the finance director, human resources director, marketing director, sales director to the production director. While the business owner is busy working in and on the business, finding the space to work on themselves is a challenge, but it needs to be a focus.

It’s why this Mental Health Awareness Week, we have been running a series of webinars with Lianne Stewart, founder of Flow by Season, to help business owners focus on their wellbeing through movement, breathwork, and mindfulness.

We must continue working together to create a culture where mental wellbeing is a priority, ensuring that Scotland’s small business owners can thrive. When SMEs are thriving, they create jobs, drive innovation, and contribute to the growth of our economy. But this can only happen if business owners are operating at their best, including their mental health.

Hugh Lightbody is Chief Officer at Business Gateway