Mental health challenges caused by ongoing lockdowns in Australia are costing billions in lost productivity, according to a new model from the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Center. And small business owners are bearing the brunt.
According to a report by the Australian Financial Review, the new model takes into account the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, on levels of psychological distress, hospitalizations and suicide.
“What we have estimated is that the cost is another $ 1 billion a year in damage to mental health, just as a result of the ongoing lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne,” said Ian Hickie, co-director of health and policy at the center.
However, July and August alone have cost an additional $ 1 billion in lost productivity, and another four months of lockdown will cost another $ 2 billion, he added.
“The longer the lockdowns and disruption continue, the worse it will be.”
The model comes as Financial Counseling Australia (FCA) reports an increase in calls to its help lines from small business owners struggling with the financial effects of lockdowns.
The Small Business Debt Hotline received 80% more calls in July than in May.
Top concerns included the inability to pay for commercial leases, uncertainty around government support and how to access it, and problems with debt collectors.
FCA also noted that business owners are calling to discuss “general financial distress,” and that most of the callers are distraught and frustrated.
“People are really struggling during these lockdowns,” FCA CEO Fiona Guthrie said in a statement.
“It’s great that many are seeking free help from financial counselors, but we know that there are many more who are suffering in silence or do not know where to turn,” she added.
“We want people to know that financial advisors care and are here to help. They provide free, independent and confidential advice to people in financial distress.”
The number for the Small Business Debt Help Line is listed below.
Hickie refers to the mental health challenges of lockdowns as a “shadow pandemic,” and something that is not being addressed in politics.
“Just telling people to be nice to each other and exercise is not a sufficient public policy response for mental health,” he said.
First, she called on the government to reinstate JobKeeper, with some modifications to prevent misuse, noting the mental health benefits of maintaining the bond between employers and employees.
Receiving income support after losing your job “doesn’t help that much from a mental health standpoint,” she said.
Ultimately, the model projects a cost of more than $ 100 billion over five years, as mental health problems have long recovery times and significant ongoing consequences.
“If you’ve lost your business, if his marriage has fallen apart, if he can’t work effectively, none of those problems will go away if the pandemic ends tomorrow,” Hickie said.
At the same time, young people affected by mental health problems are less likely to complete their education and could miss out on developing crucial skills, at a time when skilled workers are more in demand than ever.
Here are some of the mental health resources tailored for small business owners:
Health of my business
My Business Health offers tools and tips for managing mental health and wellness.
Beyond the blue
Beyond Blue’s NewAccess for Small Business Owners program offers free training for entrepreneurs, while the HeadsUp site offers resources that help business owners take care of their own mental health and that of their employees.
Everymind offers several mental health resources related to COVID-19, including fact sheets on the support available to small business owners.
Small Business Debt Helpline
Contact the FCA Small Business Debt Helpline at: 1800 413 828.
Several support measures designed specifically for tax professionals are available from the ATO. Read more about them here.
Specific government support
Finally, support is also available from state and territorial governments and small business commissions. Find details for your status here:
New south Wales