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Celebrate community and connectedness on R U OK? Day

2021 continues to bring unprecedented stress for Australian households to endure. A worldwide pandemic causing the shutdown of life as we know it, families experiencing prolonged levels of heightened anxiety and everyone feeling more out of touch than ever.

Small-business owners across the country continue to face many additional COVID-19 related stressors that can significantly impact on mental health. The short- and long-term mental health consequences of pandemics are yet to fully be known. While there is an abundance of evidence suggesting that stress and anxiety levels increase after disasters such as bushfires, floods and drought, the COVID-19 pandemic has the added burden of loneliness and isolation through social distancing measures. Add rurality and remoteness into the mix, the consequences could be calamitous. There is a level of vulnerability within many Australian communities with increased experiences of isolation and disconnection.

The impacts of COVID-19 are especially being felt across the Australian rural small business community. With many small business owners focusing on trying to get their business through this difficult period and looking after their staff, they might not have prioritised their own mental health.

Results from our recent Spend With Us, Buy From a Bush Business mental health survey of rural and regional small-business owners affirm the importance of checking in with those who own small businesses. The survey revealed that 67 per cent of small-business owners said running their own business had directly impacted feelings of anxiety and 10 per cent reported feelings of depression. Furthermore, 38 per cent of all respondents reported that feelings of anxiety were largely caused by financial and cashflow concerns, followed by 33 per cent of business owners being most worried about attaining and retaining customers. And, with 54 per cent of business owners seeking emotional support through their family, it’s likely that the COVID-19 restrictions eliminating our capacity to have regular face-to-face social interactions impacts how many people are currently having genuine conversations about their wellbeing with those we rely most on.

With millions of Australians in state-wide lockdowns, feeling an overwhelming sense of disconnect, we need to find ways of coping with aspects of our lives that we are not able to control so as to minimise our general mood and demeanour and build resilience within our communities. It’s also more important than ever to be having honest and open conversations with others about our emotional experiences amidst so much uncertainty.

It’s a hard question to ask but “Are you OK?” can be the first step in helping a loved one, friend or colleague cope with emotional distress or mental illness. It’s R U OK? Day on Thursday 9th September. With suicide being identified as the leading cause of death for 15-44-year-olds in Australia, R U OK? Day puts the spotlight on suicide prevention and asks us to look out for the mental health and wellbeing of the people we care about.

This year, on R U OK? Day, we encourage you to contribute to your community by meaningfully connecting with people around you and support anyone you know who is struggling with life. Pick up your phone or walk next door and check in with your friend, partner or family member and see how they’re going because more often than not, they’re just waiting for someone to ask.

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