Addressing Mental Health Issues in Start Up Culture

Nearly a fifth of Americans suffer from mental illness; it’s more common than many of us realize. We most likely all have someone in our lives struggling with mental health, even if we don’t know it. One demographic affected at a higher rate than the general public is entrepreneurs/business founders.

The predisposition of business founders being highly driven individuals doing many jobs at once in an effort to launch their companies means the environment is ripe for triggers that set off certain symptoms of mental illness. In such a physically and emotionally draining lifestyle, the pressure of never being “off” leads to a higher instance of mental risk.

Founders are twice as like to suffer from depression, have suicidal thoughts and have psychiatric hospitalization in their past. Substance abuse is three times more likely, while ADHD and bi-polar disorder appear in founders at a rate of 3:1 and 10:1, respectively.

Many start up failures can be attributed to “human-centric” reasons – things that should be avoidable but end up occurring thanks to the high-pressure stress founders and team members are under. Taking into account that founders generally have a “the company is me and I am the company” mentality, especially at first, many feel they can’t reach out for help. As the driving force, the captain, of the business, admitting a vulnerability can be scary and risky. In most cases, the additional pressure of performing for investors, and to keep closing funding, contributes greatly to the hesitancy to recognize and seek help for encroaching mental health instabilities.

If we can address these individual problems for founders when they surface, we can potentially mitigate the problems before they start negatively affecting the business, thereby avoiding a snowball effect on lives and bottom lines. We need to see entrepreneurs and business owners as more than revenue generators or innovators. It’s imperative we remember there’s a person under there; a person whose mental health exists alongside their professional successes.

How do we address these issues? TechCrunch goes pretty in depth into the details here, but one line particularly stands out: “Budgets are moral documents and they set the priorities of a company.” Part of the expectation for founders and team members is that they should be encouraged, from the investors down, to think about self-care. Including a line in the budget for the time and expense this kind of thing takes is a great start for a company to set the tone of mental wellness, work-life balance and overall wellbeing in their organization.

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