It’s time to talk about mental health and why it’s so important for entrepreneurs to look after their wellbeing.
Why? Because of the entrepreneurial journey. A journey often wrought with failure after failure, irregular and inconsistent income, worry and loneliness. In many cases this can lead to debt, stress, depression and anxiety. As someone who has experienced both anxiety and depression, I wanted to write this post to raise awareness of mental health issues for entrepreneurs.
This isn’t just about a bit of sporadic self-care. If you don’t properly look after your mental health, it can be much more serious.
In January 2013 an American entrepreneur named Jody Sherman was found in his car with a gunshot to his head. He had taken his own life. He was just 5 days away from his 48th Birthday. His startup company Ecomom had literally run out of money. Sherman had a history of poor money management, both personally and professionally according to this article on Business Insider. No one really knows quite what happened to Ecomom’s money, but it’s fair to say Sherman was struggling with the pressure of running Ecomom, coupled with his personal battle with clinical depression. Sadly Jody’s case is not an isolated one. There have been other entrepreneurs who have met the same fate.
Dr. Michael Freeman, an entrepreneur himself and a clinical professor at University of California at San Francisco, conducted a study of 242 entrepreneurs. The study was the first of its kind to link higher rates of mental health issues to entrepreneurship. Of the 242 entrepreneurs surveyed, 49% reported having a mental-health condition. Depression was the number one reported condition among them and was present in 30% of all entrepreneurs, followed by ADHD (29%) and anxiety problems (27%). That’s a much higher percentage than the general US population, where only about 7% identify as depressed.
Why are entrepreneurs vulnerable to mental health problems?
- Overwork – working too many hours, especially in the evenings which can lead to poor sleep patterns
- Lack of routine – many entrepreneurs are working existing jobs, have family commitments or health problems, which means work time is often interrupted
- Lack of self care – overwork and overwhelm can lead to entrepreneurial burn out. Not eating properly or using drugs/alchohol to relieve stress.
- Isolation – many entrepreneurs work alone from an office at home and see very few people during working hours
- Loneliness – lack of social interaction can leave entrepreneurs feeling lonely
- Failure – although it’s part of the business journey and can be a positive experience (you fail, you learn), constant failure affects confidence and self-esteem. This can lead to feelings of shame and depression
- No common interests – especially among friends and family. Unless they’re on the journey it’s hard for them to understand the difficulties you face
- Financial pressure – lack of regular guaranteed income. It can be a strain to have to constantly come up with new ideas for product development, marketing etc. to keep the money coming in
- Responsibility – obligation to family members or staff. It’s a huge burden to be financially and morally obligated to provide stable employment, salary etc.
- Pressure to ‘do it all’ – especially in the beginning when you don’t have the income to outsource tasks. There’s a pressure to learn new skills quickly such as accounting, goal setting, social media etc.
- Multiple ‘roles’ – not only are you an entrepreneur, you’re an accountant, a boss, a leader and a motivator, not to mention your other roles as a friend, a spouse or a parent.
- Fake it til you make it – these scenarios aren’t helpful as they can lead to even more isolation and fear of honesty. What faking it effectively does is stops you from feeling able to admit you’re struggling, financially or otherwise.
Imagine a tree, with many roots underground. The tree represents you as an entrepreneur. The actual tree, the branches, the bark, and the leaves; this is what people see. This represent your exterior ‘success’. Your wealth, your accolades, your business growth and your confidence. The roots are what people don’t see. The roots represent your failures, your struggles, your years of hard work, your worries about whether you’d make it, your sacrifices and of course your mental health. For the most part, your tree is relatively balanced. You need the roots to make the tree flourish and grow, but you also need to look after the roots, or your tree will wither. It’s a bit like the success iceberg analogy which you may be familiar with. I’ve chosen a tree to represent an entrepreneurs mental health, because I think it demonstrates perfectly the balance that’s needed to ensure your tree is healthy.
So how can entrepreneurs look after their mental health?
- Look after your inner library
You need to ensure you are taking good care of your body and mind. Make a firm commitment to eat healthily, drink plenty of water, exercise and practice daily mindfulness and meditation (I use the HeadSpace iPhone app)
- Talk about it
Be honest with your friends and family. That first conversation to say “I’m struggling” is the first step to getting support.
- Enjoy the journey
If you’re always striving for ‘one day’, you’ll miss beauty in everyday life along the way.
- Connect with others
Make time for friends, go to networking events or join my Facebook community to connect with other women in business.
- Find a goal mate
Hook up with a goal mate/accountability buddy so you can support each other’s entrepreneurial journey.
- Search online resources
Visit the Mental Health Awareness website for guidance and support.
- Get help
If you’re really struggling with anxiety or starting to feel depressed, PLEASE don’t be ashamed to get professional help. Go and see your GP.
Have you experienced mental health issues? How did you overcome them? Comment below and share your experience #speakout
This post is dedicated to Laura.