Rising mental health concerns for business owners

A monthly survey tracking the effect of COVID-19 on businesses in the Pacific region by Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) network has revealed a rapidly worsening state of emotional wellbeing amongst business decision-makers in the Pacific region.

Pacific Business Monitor’s October’s Wave 7 survey saw 74 percent of business owners reporting that COVID-19 is having a negative impact on their mental health. This is nearly a 10 percent increase from last month (65 percent) and is the highest figure reported since surveying begun in May.

Those reporting COVID-19 having a ‘very negative’ impact on mental health also increased this month, from 18 percent to nearly a quarter (23 percent).

Although the Pacific has remained relatively coronavirus free, the pandemic has triggered an economic crises for the Pacific region and its people. Border closures have resulted in a collapse in tourism, severe disruptions to international trade and a reduction in remittances. The survey also revealed 93 percent of businesses in the Pacific have reported a decline in revenue and 33 percent are not confident their business will survive after COVID-19.

PTI Australia Trade & Investment Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis, said the continued uncertainty of when borders might reopen is placing immense pressure on Pacific business owners.

“It’s clear that the prolonged duration and uncertainty of the pandemic is taking a terrible toll on business owners, their personal finances, livelihoods and emotional states. With no concrete timelines of when borders might open, many businesses are in a very unusual limbo where they are not able to forecast or plan.

“The uncertainty is compounding the stress for Pacific business owners and we can see this reflected in our latest survey results. It’s important that as a business community we are taking the time to check in with business owners, who are ultimately bearing the weight of navigating how their business will survive the current crisis.”

Mental health advocate and founder of Samoa’s Ei8ht Sports, and Australia’s Ei8ht Goals, Esmeralda Lo Tam, says we are just seeing the emergence of the emotional impact of COVID-19 and she fears what will happen further down the line.

“Through our recent history, tracking the effect on the mental wellbeing of Pacific people post-cyclones and other natural disasters, we have seen the devastating effect that times of stress has had on our wellbeing and economy.

“COVID-19 is no different and I do worry about what is in store for our communities in coming months, or even years, if we don’t find ways for our people to recognise and alleviate the stressors we are facing.

“This is particularly true for our Pasifika business community. It is truly a heartbreaking time for those who are relied upon to provide and remit funds back home, especially when business has taken a different turn during these unprecedented times. What is interesting is that it has shown to be very intergenerational. COVID has affected us all in some way, shape or form. No matter our age, nationality or industry, as Pasifika people, we need to find ways to ask for help, know where to go for help and remember to check in with each other.”

Caleb said “PTI Australia continues to use the data from the PTI Pacific Business Monitor to champion the Pacific’s private sector at a regional level and bring a spotlight to the current reality Pacific businesses are facing.

“We also use this data to help inform the design and delivery of our programs across the 16 Pacific nations we service, corroborating the anecdotal feedback we receive from our daily conversations with businesses and stakeholders in the Pacific. The data broadens our understanding of what Pacific businesses require to overcome some of the ongoing challenges that COVID-19 presents.”

Founded in 1979, PTI Australia is an agency of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Funded by the Australian government, it facilitates trade and investment in the Pacific Islands.

Press release