How small business can influence a big topic: mental health

October is Mental Health Month, but this year the topic carries extra weight – especially for small businesses. The wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19 have pushed mental health into the foreground, with financial hardship and isolation exacerbating issues long hampered by stigma and myths.

These are issues that touch almost every corner of society, including small business. Not only are many small businesses deeply connected to the local communities where mental health issues tend to see their most immediate effects, but small-business owners themselves experience substantial pressure that can impact physical and mental well-being. This was an alarming reality for many entrepreneurs even before COVID-19, and even the 2020-21 Federal Budget reflected the urgency of the situation by allocating a $7 million boost in mental health support for small businesses.

The less these issues are relegated to the shadows, the more productive discussions will be. And, luckily, the topic is getting renewed attention. In our global survey with YouGov, 92 per cent of people surveyed say it’s important for people to talk about mental health. According to data across Getty Images’ platforms, customer searches for images of “mental health” have been in the top 10 for ANZ over the last six months, increasing a further 39 percent. We’ve also seen increased searches around wellbeing (41 per cent), mindfulness (63 per cent) and self care (136 per cent).

Although we have come a long way towards destigmatising conversations around mental health, there’s always more work to be done. We believe if you change the image you can change perceptions. But what role can small businesses play? And how do you ensure empathy and compassion is woven through your marketing in a way that feels relatable?

Making discussions healthier through better visual choices

If your business is going to address mental health, there’s a good chance visual communication will come into play. Since most small businesses lack the marketing budgets of the big guys, choosing the right images for marketing and advertising materials will need to be more purposeful and considered.

That means avoiding stereotypical or stigmatising images, such as the standard photo of a person holding their head in their hands. It definitely means avoiding images that might be triggering for someone experiencing a mental health issue.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Look for sensitive, authentic portrayals. In a survey by SANE Australia, Australians experiencing mental health issues found stock imagery of pills to be the least fair or accurate. They also disagreed with using images of landscapes. Respondents reacted more positively to images that portrayed mental health in nuanced ways.
  • Don’t use images that could be triggering. Some types of mental health challenges can involve substance abuse or other dependency issues. Think twice before using photos that show items like alcohol, cigarettes or pills.
  • Avoid stigmatising imagery. Images meant to evoke fear – like those with knives, blood or any type of violence – can not only be triggering for some viewers but it can further stigmatise problems in unfair, inaccurate ways.
  • Choose images of everyday life. Mental health means something different to everyone. Showing everyday pleasures with real people and relatable moments provides endless possibilities. Whether it’s spending time with friends and family, caring for pets, connecting with nature or seeking help if needed. By modelling an authentic, inclusive vision of mental health, small businesses can connect with customers emotionally and leave them feeling empowered.

Mental health is a topic with extra significance for many small business owners. As important voices in their local communities, they have a crucial role to play in dispelling stereotypes about what mental health issues look like and how we should speak about them.

Petra O’Halloran, Creative Research Project Manager, iStock by Getty Images