How entrepreneurs are facing a mental health roller coaster in the lockdown

Business owners across Yorkshire have had to face a variety of mental health challenges after the country was placed into lockdown.

Jodie Hill is a mental health campaigner and managing director of Thrive Law.
Jodie Hill is a mental health campaigner and managing director of Thrive Law.

Companies have found themselves missing out on work, having to furlough staff or not being able to operate at all.

The entrepreneurs that have been able to carry on working have faced issues such anxiety over what the future holds for them and their business, juggling working from home with their personal lives and knowing when to switch off.

Jodie Hill, managing director of Leeds-based Thrive Law, says the first couple of weeks of lockdown were challenging for her.

Ian McCann is the CEO of Legal Studio Solicitors

“I was barely having any breaks at all in my work routine while being at home, but once we got into a flow after about two weeks, I felt we were all in a better place to implement productive new work routines,” she added.

Gavin Howarth, who is managing director of HR and employment law firm Howarths, told The Yorkshire Post that he sought out some counselling recently.

In addition to the challenges that the business faced, he and his wife welcomed a new arrival last month.

“It probably all got a bit overwhelming so I took a bit of online one-to-one coaching, mentoring, counselling,” he said. “It really helps. I suppose it’s the old adage - a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Gavin Howarth is the managing director of Howarths and has sought help to cope with the stresses of lockdown.

Recruitment firm Hays has carried out research across the country, which showed that 60 per cent of professionals and employers rated their wellbeing as positive before lockdown restrictions were put in place.

However, only 35 per cent say it is still positive since lockdown and those who rated their wellbeing negatively rose from 7 per cent to 21 per cent.

Not everyone has been impacted negatively by the disruption. In fact some see it as an opportunity to take a break away from the stresses of running a business.

Eleanor Goddard and her husband set up interior design firm Furnish & Fettle four years ago. Furnish & Fettle has branches in Wetherby, Harrogate and Pocklington - all of which had to be shuttered as a result of the lockdown. Despite this, Ms Goddard says she has been coping with the lockdown “better than normal”.

Eleanor Goddard set up Furnish & Fettle four years ago.

“In the last four years I’ve been on this roller coaster journey of huge stress and anxiety,” she said.

It has given her an opportunity to spend more time with her family. “That pressure being off has been really good for me,” she added. The Chancellor’s support packages have helped relieve a lot of the stress for Ms Goddard.

There are many who are finding new ways of managing their mental wellbeing. Some like Ms Goddard, who is helping with the Harrogate Scrubbers, are looking to do their bit for charity.

Others are discovering new ways to switch off like Katrina Cliffe. The managing director of Huddersfield-based KC Communications and her family have found a passion for gardening.

Alex Mason's struggles with anxiety led to him setting up on his own in the first place.

Victoria Clapham has been a self-employed marketing and communications expert for 18 months. She says that while there’s always a bit of uncertainty when you’re self-employed at certain times anxiety can creep in.

Ms Clapham said: “The best way to describe it is it’s been a roller coaster. There’s been various stages. Everything from acceptance to joy. It’s been an unexpected time with the family and kids to uncertainty.”

Ian McCann, CEO of Leeds-based Legal Studio Solicitors, has been struggling with depression most of his adult life.

He believes that there needs to be fundamental change on how society views mental health once the lockdown is lifted.

“People will want to return to the old normal,” Mr McCann warned. “It’s important not to ignore the fact that up until covid-19 we were still in the midst of an unprecedented mental health crisis.”

Mr McCann is on the autism spectrum. He said: “I have struggled with and still struggle with the enforced change to routine.

Bradley and Myles Jensen are spending lockdown apart but have plans to expand their reach and reconnect with their London routes.

“The other thing that I’m really struggling with is chronically overworking.”

Halifax-based lawyer Hannah Strawbridge has been busier than ever when it comes to work with individuals and businesses seeking advice around things such as the furlough scheme. But she has to juggle this with homeschool five boys.

Just like Ms Hill, PR consultant Alex Mason has been struggling with being in “always on” mode.

Mr Mason, who suffers from anxiety, has resorted to setting himself reminders to take breaks and work set hours.

“What I’ve always struggled with is I have a lot of self-doubt,” he said. “It’s a by-product of my anxiety.”

Ms Hill believes that there is likely to be a “tsunami” of mental illnesses appearing post-lockdown and employers will need to be equipped to deal with that.

For a lot of microbusinesses and self-employed people it can be disheartening to see work dry up while larger firms in the industry announce client wins.

That’s something that PR and marketing expert Gemma Birbeck encountered in the early days of the lockdown.

“I was looking at the bigger agencies who were more established and they were announcing client wins and things,” Ms Birbeck said. “It really took its toll on me.”

She added: “I had a couple of weeks where I was quite down and started to question my skills and my abilities. It was quite a difficult time.”

Her advice to others in a similar position is to not “compare yourself to others” and focus on the

She added: “Focus on your positives and pick out the good things that you are doing.”

Some are missing interactions with other people, whether that is co-workers, those in a shared office space or simply seeing customers.

Ms Goddard has her family around her but misses the day-to-day business interactions.

“I love talking to people,” she said. “That’s difficult because sometimes if you are feeling in a low mood and things are on top of you sometimes during normal day-to-day interactions in the business something good can happen and that changes your mood completely.”

While Ms Birbeck used to have a shared office space, which helped alleviate some of the isolation she would feel as a sole entrepreneur.

“Usually when you’re in a shared office space you can bounce a load of ideas off people that are around you and talk to people about the struggles at work,” she says.

Two young entrepreneurs are seeing the positives of lockdown. Energetic twin brothers Myles and Bradley Jensen run their own marketing agency.

The twins have actually been split up by the lockdown with Myles in London and Bradley holding fort in Leeds.

“As two boys that went to a boarding school from ten years old being locked down in a building isn’t too hard,” Myles Jensen said.

The duo have been reconnecting with old friends and family members and staying upbeat throughout the disruption.

Bradley Jensen is keen to remind people that this is a new experience for everyone and that it is “OK to not be OK”.

“Even if it’s a bit stormy now, it’s not going to rain forever,” he added.

Training provider launches advice tool

Mental health training provider Champion Health recently launched a free covid-19 digital advice tool, co-developed with GPs and health professionals, to provide employees with advice, support and training.

Harry Bliss, co-founder and CEO of the Sheffield-based organisation, says the outbreak of coronavirus has accelerated the mental health agenda in businesses somewhat.

Mr Bliss said: “A vital area when discussing mental health and remote working is ensuring there are open communication channels and one area that covid-19 is impacting significantly is loneliness.

“Businesses should ensure that all employees can contact their line managers, and vice versa, and within these discussions freely talk about mental health and wellbeing.

“It is important that this is early in the conversation so it doesn’t appear to be an afterthought.”

Business owners and entrepreneurs will be facing added stressors, during these uncertain times.

Mr Bliss said: “We believe that the businesses that will do well coming out of this situation are those that are informed, but can also shut off the ‘external world’ and prioritise what they can control themselves.

“The more stressed we get, the longer hours we work, and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of working hard but not smart.

“As for many of us, our homes are our offices right now, and we mustn’t fall out of our ‘normal’ working routines pre-covid-19.

“Finish work at 8pm at the latest and prioritise your sleep; it’s the single most powerful tool for productivity and creativity.”