Houston, We Have A Problem
Mental health is the elephant in the room for start-ups.
Studies have found that entrepreneurs face significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses than the average population.
However, following the recent tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, there is starting to be increased cultural discussion of mental illness amongst professionals, even those that seem to have it all together. We’re starting to discuss the epidemic of mental stressors and illnesses that affect entrepreneurs more than ever before, from those leading the charge on a solo endeavour, to those working with a larger team of innovators.
There are a number of factors- in psychology, we’d refer to them as ‘risk factors’-that impact entrepreneurs and make them more prone to developing high levels of stress and mental illnesses.
Whilst these risk factors aren’t unique to entrepreneurs, the compound effect of one individual exposed to all of them creates a very vulnerable situation to be in. Here are a few of the key risk factors, that you’re probably familiar with yourself.
Social and Financial Pressures
Risk factors for the entrepreneur include the enormous pressure that we feel to succeed, as well as the perceived judgement from others such as employees, family, friends, and peers. The social pressure is added to by the financial pressures of start-ups; your own, employees, and investors. The stakes are high, and with risk an inherent part of the job, the pressure to deliver is constant.
Poor Work-Life Balance
Another factor is the sheer amount of time, and mental energy invested into the business. When there’s so much at stake it makes sense that you’d try your hardest to make it work. That sees us fall into the mindset of ‘always working’, ‘always hustling’, not only to meet our own expectations, but those of others. That sort of mindset is incredibly damaging to being able to create boundaries in order to establish a healthy work-life balance. It can also see a reduced amount of sleep hours, which is integral for our mental and overall health.
In psychology, alongside ‘risk-factors’ for mental illnesses, there are also ‘protective factors’. These are the things that can help keep a person healthy and safe from a mental illness, despite being exposed to risk factors. Huge protective factors against mental illness are social connections and support systems. These are integral to human health, and can help us increase our moods, reduce stress levels, and importantly, allow us the space to feel understood and validated. Due to the nature of entrepreneurship, many professionals work from home, or without a huge amount of social interaction across the day. We might also forgo meeting up with friends for more time spent working on the business. This makes entrepreneurs more vulnerable to mental health issues.
A Grin-and-Bear-It Culture
Being the leader and face of your business can create a lot of pressure to put on a strong front to those around you. That makes it hard to have honest conversations about how you’re really doing, because, unfortunately, we often think struggling with mental illness or stress means that we, and our businesses, are weak (spoiler: it doesn’t!).
As such, we’re more likely tell everyone that we’re “doing great, and the business is doing great, thanks for asking” which is easier than to actually tell our friends that the pressure is making it hard to sleep, we’re feeling overwhelmed, or that we feel on edge all the time.
That means that we can’t get the necessary social support that we need to help us through our struggles- instead, the pressure builds up inside of us, along with the tension of keeping secrets.
Ok, so what can we do?
Good question! Over the coming weeks I’ll be exploring ways to address these issues, both as a community, and as individuals. The great thing is that more and more people are realising that there’s an issue- which really is the first step. So by having a read of this article, and being open to discussions about mental health in our entrepreneur community, we’re opening up the floor space to have important conversations and make changes for the better of our own health and our community.
If you would like to speak to someone about the issues of anxiety and depression raised in this article, you can call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or find them at www.beyondblue.org.au.
If you’re experiencing a crisis, or are thinking about suicide, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for support or head to www.lifeline.org.au.