Accounting software company Xero is launching a pilot programme to offer free counselling and support to small business owners feeling down.

From March, as part of its Employment Assistance Programme, 5000 small businesses subscribed to the company's software will have access to face-to-face, phone and online counselling through global provider Benestar.

Xero will assess the popularity of the service with owners, staff and their families in the next six months, with the intention to roll out access to its 324,000 subscribers.

READ MORE:Loneliness plagues business owners


Mental health is a major concern for employers. The World Health Organisation predicts mental illness will be the main cause of disability and absence in the workplace by 2030 if it is not addressed adequately.

An estimated 25 per cent of the New Zealand workforce has been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and last year the Government's Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry found one-in-five New Zealanders experienced mental illness or significant mental distress in their lifetime, costing the economy $12 billion a year.

Being a small business owner can be a lonely place to be.

Not having stable income, no colleagues to bounce thoughts off and little support are just a few reasons why so many business owners feel isolated.

Xero New Zealand and Pacific Islands country manager Craig Hudson said Xero wanted to support to business owners and teams who did not have access to support programmes and funded counselling that many corporate firms offer.

"There is a growing need for mental health support in small business," Hudson said. "When it comes to mental health, our statistics in New Zealand are truly awful. Too many Kiwis are struggling and often don't know where or who to turn to."

Hudson said the high cost of counselling services often prevented people from accessing help when they needed it. "Mental health in New Zealand is a crisis.

"The issue has been highlighted enough so we wanted to actually lean in and do something about it."


Not-for-profit organisation Business Mentors, which mentors around 3,000 Kiwi businesses each year, has in the past worked with owners who are suicidal. Last year it found that isolation was the biggest problem small business owners faced.

Business Mentors chief executive Craig Garner said poor mental health was rampant in the sector, so much so that it was now considered at crisis level.

"Interestingly, we're in an age where we're more connected than we've ever been but I think people are just overwhelmed with artificial contact and they are misrepresenting that with real, genuine human contact," Garner said.

"Stress creates anxiety and it is emotional support that helps us through that and you need someone who you can confide in, in a trusted way that will help you unravel that, and often that can just be a few words."

Research shows 650,000 Kiwis have felt lonely in the last month.

A manifestation of negative feelings can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing and therefore a person's output, Garner said.


"Being able to talk to someone, having someone available that you can share ideas with is essential and that's the whole premise of mentoring."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.