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Covid causing mental health crisis among Coast business owners

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A staggering one third of Sunshine Coast business owners are showing signs of significant mental wellbeing concerns caused directly by COVID-19, new research has revealed.

The Business Health Check survey found that about 33 per cent of owners and operators on the southern Sunshine Coast frequently feel depressed, down, or hopeless and are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

NightQuarter owner Michelle Christoe understands the devastating impacts of COVID-19 first hand admitting she has had to fight off depression and anxiety.

“This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone,” Ms Christoe said.

“Personally, I have fought off depression and anxiety over the business and have worked hard to maintain my mental health through wellness programs and counselling.

“I think of it as maintenance to get through the turmoil.”

NightQuarter has had $3 million worth of events rescheduled or cancelled from its 2021 calendar resulting in refunds, thousands of consumer queries and considerable administration.

While COVID restrictions have been an effective tool to directly keep people safe, Ms Christoe expressed her concern for the indirect impacts of ongoing health restrictions.

“No one should be surprised of the effect that COVID restrictions have had on the business community.” Ms Christoe says.

“We are grateful to be living in Queensland with our low covid numbers and cannot imagine what it would be like to live in New South Wales or Victoria at this time.

“But even here our staff have needed to take stress leave as a result, and I find myself taking up to a week sometimes to recover.”

The survey reveals the hardest-hit sectors are retail, tourism and hospitality, with twice as many respondents reporting they had experienced greater financial difficulties since the pandemic began – with 63 per cent compared to 31 per cent for other businesses.

A little more than 30 per cent of retail, tourism and hospitality businesses said they had laid off staff in the past 12 months, compared to 17 per cent of other businesses.

Caloundra Chamber of Commerce CEO Brady Sullivan described the findings as “deeply concerning”.

“Many business owners have been staring down the barrel for two years and now we’ve got the smoking gun,” Mr Sullivan says.

“While it is true that many sectors have largely gone unscathed and others have even enjoyed great growth opportunities, there is reason to be concerned for many business owners.

"At the best of times business owners face challenges and stressful situations and we are far from the best of times.

“This research provides another critical layer of understanding to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 as people around the world do their best to adjust.”

The survey was a collaboration between the Caloundra Chamber of Commerce and USC’s School of Business and Creative Industries.

Chief investigator USC senior lecturer in marketing Dr Rory Mulcahy said the survey sought to better understand COVID’s impacts on local businesses and the health and wellbeing of business owners.

“Our analysis shows that financial risk and other negative implications of COVID are eroding the confidence, work-life balance and wellbeing of a significant number of business owners and operators,” Dr Mulcahy said.

“Almost 30 percent indicated that for several days a week they have little interest or pleasure in doing things.

“In another finding, 44 percent felt their business was financially vulnerable as a result of the pandemic.”

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Image: Mitch Bland