Depression Among Entrepreneurs – It’s Time to Start the Conversation.

Last month, the entrepreneurial community lost two impactful greats: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While both Spade and Bourdain were unique in their talents (and their superhuman skills), the struggles they dealt with are likely also felt by you and me: entrepreneurs who are hustling hard and faced with everything from imposter syndrome and isolation, to simply managing the great physical, emotional, mental and financial toll that comes along with the job.

Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal journey, full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s often incredibly difficult to separate your identity from the business you are trying to create. Business setbacks seem like personal setbacks, and it’s not hard to see how depression can quickly take root.

3 in 10 entrepreneurs suffer from depression and 7 in 10 are affected by mental illness.

A 2015 University of California study found that 30 percent of all entrepreneurs experience depression, compared to a global rate of 4.4 percent (and 7 percent in America). While the number could be even higher because of the stigma associated with talking about it, at face value entrepreneurs are four times more likely to suffer from depression than everyone else.

Similarly, a whopping 72 percent of entrepreneurs reported that a mental health condition – including depression, ADHD, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety – was present in either themselves or an immediate family member. Mental illness affects an estimated 42.5 million American adults, and while society has matured when it comes to the acceptance of those with mental illness, there is still a stigma attached to it that can prevent those in need from seeking proper treatment and support.

Entrepreneurs are great at talking about mountaintops – their business successes, exciting new partnerships and successful marketing campaigns. But, we aren’t great at talking about the valleys – the financial stress, loneliness, long hours, etc. There are always never-ending to-do lists that are easy to get caught up in (often at the expense of a healthy balance of family, faith and self-care). And it is easy to brush off the chance to start a conversation about mental health with the phrases, “I’m fine” or “I’m just busy.”

Starting a company is an emotional rollercoaster. The twists and turns of managing a fledging business can be frustrating, exhilarating and devastating all in the span of a single day. It can also be challenging to distinguish the thin line between normal stress and anxiety or depression. What’s more, many entrepreneurs also feel the need to always wear their “brave face” in order to hide their vulnerability to employees, investors, and colleagues which further leads to isolation and the feeling of helplessness (Read more on how peer-to-peer mentor groups help fight the isolation of running a small business).

Help destigmatize depression and mental illness by starting the conversation.

    1. If you are experiencing serious symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to a doctor or therapist. One of the toughest things to admit is that we need support. It is especially grueling for someone who is independent, like most entrepreneurs. Continue to tell yourself that mental illness is legitimate and that asking for support is not a sign of weakness. Like anything in life, when there is a problem we need to accept it and use a strategy to correct it. Take a step to unload the burden that you feel and acknowledge you can’t do this alone.

      It is important to understand the warning signs of mental illness such as anxiety and depression. The most obvious symptoms are changes in sleeping or eating patterns, alongside feelings of listlessness, panic, paranoia or fear. However, there are many more symptoms for both anxiety and depression – and these disorders can manifest themselves differently for each individual. 


    1. Start the conversation with your entrepreneur peers. Share the above statistics about mental health with peers or in any entrepreneurial networking/support group you may be a part of. Consider inviting a mental health professional to speak with your group or organize a workshop on ways to stay mentally strong while undergoing the pressures of running a business.

      Check in on your fellow entrepreneurs regularly to make sure they are doing ok. Look for signs of depression in your peers (people are notoriously bad at evaluating the state of their own mental illness) and let them know you are there to listen and support them. Create a support network of friends, family and even colleagues that who can help one another stay healthy.

    2. Start the conversation around your office. As a leader, mental health awareness isn’t just about you – it’s about your whole team. Take care of yourself and make it clear to your employees that they should do the same. Encourage your team to take mental health days the same way you encourage them to take sick days. Employees can’t do their best work if they’re not taking care of their mental well-being.

If you are feeling depressed and thinking about suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line, a free text message service, available 24/7, at 741-741.

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