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Entrepreneur Jenny Jay, owner of The Double Jay Collective, said learning to set boundaries between work and personal time has helped her mental health.Supplied

Crying almost every day was a clue for entrepreneur Jenny Jay that something was wrong.

November and December of 2018 were two of the most successful months revenue-wise for her business, the Double Jay Collective, a Greater Toronto Area photography and videography agency. But those months were two of the worst for her mental health.

“Doing work, something I normally love to do, was really difficult,” she said.

According to a new study by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), nearly half of Canadian entrepreneurs say mental-health issues interfere with their ability to work. One-third of business owners surveyed reported feeling depressed at least once a week.

“Small businesses are the backbone of Canada’s economy," said Fardous Hosseiny, chief executive officer and national director of research and public policy for CMHA. “Their health and well-being is a critical public-health issue. They’re key drivers of job creation.”

For the report, titled Going it Alone: The Mental Health and Well-Being of Canada’s Entrepreneurs, researchers surveyed 476 Canadian entrepreneurs and conducted one-on-one interviews with 20 of them. It was released on Tuesday.

Nearly 80 per cent of respondents said they feel satisfied with their mental health at least once a week, but Mr. Hosseiny thinks it’s telling that issues came up when researchers asked specifically about stress and burnout. "They think they’re doing well, but when we get to a deeper dive we find they’re actually really struggling.”

There were 1.15 million small businesses in Canada as of December, 2017, according to Statistics Canada.

Although entrepreneurship is encouraged by startup hubs and postsecondary programs, discussions about mental health are usually absent from them, the report noted.

This is one of the first studies to examine Canadian entrepreneurs and their mental health at the national level, said Mr. Hosseiny and Michael Denham, president and CEO of the Business Development Bank of Canada, a Crown corporation bank that sponsored the study.

“The study confirmed what we knew with some rigour,” Mr. Denham said. “There are barriers around the cost of diagnosis and treatment. There’s the stigma.”

Entrepreneurs face unique stressors, the study noted, the biggest of which is income uncertainty.

Christina Tolkamp experienced that when she left a consulting job to found her own company, Vancouver-based CareCrew Technologies Corp., and develop the Caren App, designed to help families co-ordinate looking after aging loved ones.

“Even when I raised money, when things go over budget, it’s easiest just to take from your own salary,” she said.

Ms. Tolkamp knew that starting a business would require a lifestyle change, but struggling to make rent was hard on her.

“You just feel so drained,” she said. “Because your personal finances are on the line, your business is on the line. You have investors’ money on the line, you have your staff and you have other family responsibilities.”

In April, 2018, she began seeing a clinical counsellor. “She asked me what I did for fun, and I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t have time for fun,’ ” Ms. Tolkamp said.

She had student health coverage at the time because she was studying for a master’s degree at the University of British Columbia. But rarely do entrepreneurs have benefits to cover counsellor or psychologist visits; the CMHA study noted that entrepreneurs face financial barriers to accessing such services.

Clinical counsellors cost $120 a session, on average, according to the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors, and the Ontario Psychological Association recommends practitioners charge $225 an hour.

Some government agencies offer free services, but wait times are typically long, Mr. Hosseiny said, and the patient’s mental illness needs to be fairly severe in order to be referred to them.

“We don’t wait until people have Stage 4 cancer until we intervene. But we kind of do that for mental health,” he said.

Even if entrepreneurs have access to sick leave, they are less likely to take it; the report noted a culture of placing the business’s needs ahead of family and self-care.

“These 12- to 16-hour workdays are really glamorized,” said Ms. Jay, who recalled a four-month stretch last winter when she took only one full day off.

Mental-health effects were even more pronounced among female entrepreneurs and among those whose businesses were in the early growth stages, according to the study.

Six months after finding herself in tears too often, Ms. Jay is doing better by carving out time to be offline and setting more realistic deadlines.

“If you’re not setting those boundaries and not making sure you’re healthy and whole, how are you going to be able to show up at your 100 per cent?" she said. "You can’t.”

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