Entrepreneurs and Mental Health

It’s no secret that being an entrepreneur can be an incredibly challenging, isolating, and lonely endeavor. Too often we only see the high flyers and the success, money, and prestige they gain. What we often choose not to see is the countless failures, challenges, and years of work and sacrifice that went into those “overnight successes.” And what about the 70% of entrepreneurs who put everything on the line, take the risk, and end up without their dream realized?

There are dark shadows found in every stage of entrepreneurship when you consider the impact it can have on a Founder’s mental health. The common side effect referred to as the Founder Blues, often minimize the stress, anxiety, and depression that many experience in the high paced fight for survival, funding, and customers that startups must push through.

Entrepreneurs are much more likely to experience mental health conditions than the general public. Long hours, small teams, and high risk mean there is often little time left for a work life balance. Founders have extreme highs and lows and researchers from the University of California found a whopping 72% of entrepreneurs self-reported mental health concerns at some point in their startup journey. According to another recent survey, 30% of the entrepreneurs participating reported a lifetime history of depression, another 29% said they were dealing with ADHD, and 27% revealed feelings of anxiety.

According to a 2013 study by Morneau Shepell, workplace stress levels have doubled since 2009 and much of that has to do with more business owners and higher expectations. In just the last 5 years, the startup world has seen a number of high-profile people lost to suicide, including Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain.

To those suffering from anxiety and depression: you are not alone. We can’t change the ups and downs of building a great company, but there are ways you can travel the path of entrepreneurship with support and community:

Stop the stigma.

The first way to stop the stigma is to increase the conversation. Entrepreneurs need to be comfortable talking about their struggles, and others need to be comfortable listening to and supporting them in those struggles. As our friends at NAMI point out, “It used to be that cancer was “taboo” to talk about, but through open and honest conversations, cancer became de-stigmatized. The more we talk about mental health conditions, the more normalized it becomes.” Starting the conversation is the first step and we all need to do it with sensitivity and respectful language.

Work smart.

If you are working 20 hour days, please stop. That is not something to idolize or gloat about, and you aren’t a better leader for it. Work hard, but be smart and strategic about balancing that with your health and family. No one makes their best decisions, builds their best products, or provides the best customer service when you are in a place of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. A Stanford University study shows that once you reach around 49 hours a week, additional working hours actually produce diminishing returns. After 49 hours or so, the more you work, the less effective you become. As this Inc. article boldly says, “Anyone Who Claims to Work 18 Hours a Day Is Either Lying or Stupid” and who wants to be known as either of those?

Don’t do it alone.

There’s a reason accelerators, incubators, and tech hubs exist, and it’s to solve the problem of an entrepreneur going it alone. We are better together. This Entrepreneur article says that “While it may be possible to unearth a brilliant idea by yourself, getting from inspiration to implementation as a team of one is a very unlikely path.” So find your place outside the home with people who are on a similar path. The energy, like-mindedness, and collaboration will make you a better entrepreneur. At Atlanta Tech Village, we are passionate about building a supportive and encouraging community that also helps you achieve success faster. Startups can be insanely fun and inspiring, but that can be easy to forget when you experience the lows and are going it alone.

Seek help.

Whether it’s other entrepreneurs, support groups, a counselor, or trusted friend – share your struggles with someone. The Village offers E-Team on the 3rd Thursday of every month which is a support group for entrepreneurs as well as Grace @ Work for small group conversations about faith, leading, and support as you grow and build. If talking about it isn’t enough, please seek a mental health professional. They are amazing and there to walk alongside you. Worried you can’t afford it? Most insurance includes free sessions and many counselors offer a sliding scale fee for as little as $25/session. Just ask! 

For our Atlanta community, we recommend these resources. Remember the tough times are only for a season. We got you.