News & Stories

Mental health support for small businesses

What if your business is too small to have an HR department?

In 20 to 30 years' time I hope we will look for psychological hazards in the workplace the same way we look for physical hazards today.

That's the vision of Professor Angela Martin, the chief investigator of the Business in Mind project at the University of Tasmania. She led a study that produced training and resources for small businesses, which were taken up by beyondblue, the national mental health support organisation.

Small-to-medium businesses often involve their own set of opportunities and stresses—from juggling finances and staff to securing enough, but not too much, work. And where bigger, corporate workplaces may have easy access to mental health support, it can be a challenge to ensure employers and employees at smaller businesses have the same.

This can be costly - not just for individuals, but for workplaces and businesses too—so it's crucial that chronic stress, depression and anxiety are managed. Business in Mind project, which ran from 2008 to 2012, was created to address this issue.

"There aren't many resources or much support for businesses which don't have a HR department. Recent data indicates that only about nine per cent of businesses with less than 50 staff had been exposed to any sort of workplace mental health training," Professor Martin says.

The University's workplace mental health research team wanted to create free, easily accessible workplace mental health training tailored specifically to small-to-medium-sized businesses. To do this, they needed to find out exactly what would work for them.

The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Small Business Council of Australia partnered on the project, promoting it to their networks and encouraging 250 small businesses owners and managers to take part.

Video case studies featured the Mayor of Hobart, the CEO of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and 10 business manager/owners.

The participants received a free DVD and resource kit with advice on effective stress management, finding a healthy work/life balance, and on building positive relationships. These businesses were then asked to complete a longitudinal survey evaluating the program, so that future versions (as well as other business support services) can be improved based on their needs.

In 2011, beyondblue incorporated the resources in their national depression initiative, where it has since been downloaded more than 5,000 times. In 2016 they redeveloped their support resources in line with the recommendations from Business in Mind.

The team went on to evaluate different versions of the program, along with a longer version of the DVD. They also investigating the benefits of offering workers six support sessions with a psychologist over the phone.

The project received funding from beyondblue and the Australian Research Council, and support from partners including Workcover Tas.


  • Tracing tourists: Tasmania's tourism industry is better able to plan for growth with the help of the University's Tourism Tracer research team. Visitors are encouraged to install an app which tracks their activities during their visit.
  • Bringing experts together: In 2016, the University hosted a conference of academics, policy-makers, and industry representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US to develop national support priorities for providing mentally healthy workplaces. The resulting nine recommendations for government and workplace mental health support policies were published in a 2017 white paper that has been disseminated globally by conference participants.

Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student.

Interested in partnering with the University of Tasmania? Find out more here.