Catrin Donnelly: 'The most impactful thing on mental health for small business owners is loneliness'

Catrin Donnelly: 'The most impactful thing on mental health for small business owners is loneliness'

Posted: Thu 22nd Apr 2021

On 18 May, Catrin Donnelly - the founder of mental wellbeing app Align - will be speaking about 'How diversity has a positive impact on business' at Dell Technologies' Turn Off, Tune In event series.

Ahead of her session, which forms part of Dell Small Business Month, we caught up with Catrin to discuss not only the huge impact diversity has, but the issue of mental health - and why it's especially prevalent in the small business world.

Catrin, why did you launch Align - and how does it work?

"Align is an app that helps people build and sustain their mental wellbeing. Quite often, when people begin to feel anxious or low in mood, they don't know what to do or where to go. Everything is very much self-help. It's decentralised. It's not very guided.

"I've always been interested in biology and how our lifestyle affects our health. I wanted to bring the biology and the centralised piece together to give people a completely guided way of how they can change their lifestyle to create better mental wellbeing. Our approach is that mental wellbeing is a preventative solution to mental health."

Are you trying to fill the gap between being encouraged to talk about mental health and actual therapy?

"The way society has spoken about mental health is quite intangible. I don't think people can quite grasp it. It's very difficult to get your head around what it is, and how something like depression can come along quite suddenly.

"It comes back to looking at what's going on in the body - how is your food affecting you? Your sleep? These things have a massive impact, and I think that's the piece we're missing."

Are we at a place where mental health at work is being taken seriously?

"Since the pandemic, there's been a massive increase in companies looking at mental health and taking it seriously, which is great - but I think we're still quite far behind.

"Throughout the pandemic, what I've seen most often is perks and services offered to employees, which is very surface level. It needs to dig deeper than that by looking at what causes mental health problems - is it the company itself? Is it culture? Is it management? These are massively impactful aspects of business that can definitely deteriorate one's mental health."

Is mental health particularly pronounced in the small business world?

"The most impactful thing on mental health for small business owners is loneliness. Being a solo founder, not having employees around you and working alone is hard. There's also the issue of spreading yourself thinly across different areas of work.

"You just need to look at that self-awareness piece. You're the one responsible for telling yourself 'OK, I need to take a break or tone work down for a bit'. No one else will do that for you, unless you have family around you. You have to really self-regulate yourself.

"That's difficult when you're trying to run a business, because you've got goals to achieve - but you have to step back to really see how things are going."

Is that your one standout bit of advice for small business owners - to prioritise self-regulation?

"I think it's actually a mindset thing. A lot of us think that stepping away from work equates to not making money or work being paused. We associate taking time off with failure sometimes.

"But we know that taking time off will actually benefit your business. It's that language we should be using more regularly - but it will take practice."

You'll be speaking about diversity at Tune Off, Tune In. Can you give us a preview?

"Diversity is only going to impact businesses positively. Like mental health, over the past year a spotlight has really been shined on it - particularly now that we're living in a very remote world, where you have access to so many different people. Barriers that were once there have been broken down.

"Companies have a responsibility to be completely aware of how diverse their team is, how diverse their brand is, and that they're being inclusive. And consumers these days, they're very conscious of who they're buying from and when they're being advertised to. This is only going to increase, which is great - because we do have to change the way we do things massively."

Don't miss Catrin's session - where she'll be joined by Margarete McGrath, Dell Technologies' global strategic propositions lead - on 18 May. Secure your spot for free.


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