The SME Tracker for March revealed that one in seven bosses (13.6%) were feeling unable to cope with work pressures, with another one in 13 (7.5%) reported having intrusive negative thoughts or suicidal feelings. Both figures were a substantial jump from the summer, when only one in 200 reported having suicidal or negative thoughts.

Generally, 24% said their mental health was worsening, due to the stress and challenges of keeping their businesses afloat amid the global pandemic.

The survey reported data from accountants representing 6,000 SME clients and ran until yesterday.

The tracker also unearthed a worrying trend for SMEs to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to forecasting their financial requirements and applying for loans to fund the reopening of their businesses and trading for the next 12 months.

Accountants said that more than one-third (37.5%) had not considered how to fund the coming months when it is hoped that trading will resume, requiring adequate cash flow.

And 50% of clients were only confident enough to borrow up to 15% of their net earnings to fund continued trading – revealing a reluctance to take on more debt in an unpredictable situation.

On a more positive note, all respondents were confident they would be able to access the right skills to support recovery, with 75% committing to spending more on skills and training in the next six months.

Kirsty McGregor, founder of The Corporate Finance Network, said: ‘It’s a concern that SMEs are not forecasting how much cash they will need to resume trading over the next 12 months. There’s obviously a reluctance to take on debt, which could be down to a lack of clarity over what the future will bring.

‘This doesn’t bode well for the government’s new recovery loans, which may offer less favourable terms than their predecessors, and will be pitched now at owners with a strong aversion to taking on more debt.’

Claire Bennison, head of ACCA UK, said: ‘Small business owners have faced the most challenging year imaginable to save their businesses and it’s distressing that so many are facing mental health issues.

‘Sadly, among all the announcements in the Spring Budget, there was no mention of any measures to help the business community with their wellbeing, which was a big disappointment.’

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