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Depression, Mental Health, Entrepreneurship & Startups

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by Startacus Admin

mental health and entrepreneurship

We recently read a heartfelt article by the Manchester based Tech Entrepreneur Manoj Ranaweera about the suicide of his entreprenerial friend and business peer, and it motivated us to write about something both serious and widespread within the world of entrepreneurship: depression.

Of course we are not trained health professionals but, while we don’t claim to have the solution, it is an important issue too long hidden and kept quiet, and perhaps something we have to say can help.

mental health and entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is full of ups and downs, and this stress can potentially lead to mental health problems and depression. For an entrepreneur, a state of depression has unique work life ramifications owing to the fact that their personal health directly affects their business’s health. It can be a dark and ugly circle, with poor business performance worsening the depression.

It could be that entrepreneurship simply isn’t for you as we recently highlighted. But if you think that this isn’t the case, letting the depression win and giving up the business isn’t likely to make things any better. This is only an attempt to sidestep the depression when the only real way to deal with it is to tackle it head on.

The clichéd first step is, of course, acknowledgement. Depression isn’t something to be ashamed of or hidden from people. Most important is to admit to yourself that this is what it is, and do away with the excuses - it’s just stress; it’s just lack of sleep; everyone feels down sometimes, etc. Yes, everyone feels down sometimes, but there is a great difference between this and actual depression.

mental health and entrepreneurship

A large business has the capacity to give help to employees with mental health troubles, but as an entrepreneur you are more on your own. The world of entrepreneurship can usually be a lonely one, and depression likes loneliness. For that reason alone, you should, if you feel possible, tell people around you. Any entrepreneur does better with a support system of friends and family - and co-founders if applicable - but never more so than when depression is added into the mix. The same thing goes here as above, though - don’t surround yourself with people who give you excuses about it being just a slump, or a good night’s sleep will make you feel better. While these people may mean well, denying that it is depression is in no way helpful.

As mental health becomes more and more talked about, the areas of startups and entrepreneurship are beginning to take more notice of it, dragging it out of the shadows and shaking the stigma from it.

In 2015 researchers at the University of California studied the link between entrepreneurship and mental illness. The report identified that (at least in the US) mental-health conditions were a good bit higher in entrepreneurs than the US population as a whole, with 72% of entrepreneurs directly or indirectly affected by mental health conditions. Perhaps more needs to be done in this research area and also outside of the US - and we also welcome any suggestions of UK/European research and reports that can shed more light in this area.

Friends and family are all well and good as a support network, but they are unlikely to fully understand the unique challenges of entrepreneurship and how it affects mental health, so having an entrepreneurial support system as well is a good idea.

depression and entrepreneurship

Furthermore, startup ecosystems, accelerator programmes, co-working spaces, networking groups, meetups and so on, need to be both a support system for their community of founders and startups, and also an active participant in supporting the wellbeing and mental health of their respective communities.

One perfect example is the UK startup Sanctus, who run mental-health workshops and have recently partnered with the Ignite Accelerator to bring a focus on mental wellbeing to their Manchester accelerator. The plan being that founder wellbeing will become a core element of the Ignite programme - a plan that should surely be welcomed and become more mainstream within the standard ‘Accelerator’ 10-12 week itinerary.

Sanctus explained their partnership with Ignite:

Ignite support founders as an early-stage investor but the financial support is just the fuel. Mental wellbeing is as important as anything when it comes to the support the accelerator offers and Ignite understand how critical a founder’s wellbeing is to the success of any company.

There’s few places more stressful and pressurised than in the shoes of a start-up founder. With investors putting thousands of £££s of faith in you, customers expecting high standards, and employees looking to you for direction day-in day-out, being a founder can at times be a very lonely place.”

London Co-working space Huckletree is also a good example of a collaborative workspace that supports entrepreneurs and startups with not just deskspace, but by providing its members with running, yoga, and meditation sessions in collaboration with Morning Gloryville. A good approach to preparing the body and mind for the working day and perhaps at the end of the working day too. 

depression and entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs have to look to the future, make plans, see themselves as rich and successful this time next year, etc. These are ways to make themselves successful and keep themselves working hard. However, by imagining themselves as having ‘made it’ - perhaps even looking to the luxurious lives of hugely successful entrepreneurs they hold in high regard - they can find themselves feeling inadequate in their current state. Rather than having achieved, they are reaching, struggling. Rather than buying their second Rolls Royce, they’re taking out their second mortgage. In short, they can end up feeling like failures because they haven’t yet attained their goals.

Try to stay grounded in reality. Every entrepreneur has to have a journey between not being successful and being successful; you are not somehow a failure because you are not magically running a multi-million-pound business the instant you decide to become an entrepreneur, yet it is something as seemingly obvious as this that can seem like a reality when you have depression.

Comparing yourself and your business to others as a gauge of how well you are doing, then, might not be a good idea for entrepreneurs suffering from depression. Instead, try looking at where you are and what you are doing (being in the moment), or looking backwards at what you have already achieved - we never realise how far we’ve walked until we turn around and look back at our footprints (or something more profound).

For every negative thought you have about where you are and what you are doing, try to challenge that thought by questioning whether it is actually true and fair. Depression compels us to exaggerate the negative or even construct it from nothing, so simply (a relative term in this instance) looking at it from a logical perspective can quickly dispel it.

depression and entrepreneurship

Again to stress, we are not mental health professionals and these words are only thoughts as we see it. If you need to speak to someone aside from family and friends make sure that you see your doctor or a trained professional. 

Although it can seem as though you are alone and there’s no one around to help and support you, there are more avenues of support than might at first be apparent. It’s not exhaustive, but here is a list of some of the resources, articles and avenues you might want to look at and consider:

  • Paul Smith, now Head of Program and founding team at Dubai Future Accelerators and previously Co-Founder & Director of ignite100 previously wrote about his own experiences in managing his own depression and being bipolar - a worthwhile read. 

  • Whilst researching for resources we were referred to welldoing.org which is devoted to mental health, self-development and wellbeing, with its own directory of therapists and counsellors.

  • PsycApps is a startup app recently featured on TechCrunch that whilst still at an early stage seems to be doing some interesting things around screening measuring and managing depression.

  • If you are in need of a career and confidence boost, the team at London based Step up Club seem to be a good place to start.

And this is where you hopefully come in - if you know of other resources and places to turn to, especially ones that aim to support entrepreneurs and those working in and for startups, we are all ears and would love to add other relevant links in where appropriate.

Again, if any of the above resonates with you personally make sure to see a doctor or a trained professional as soon as possible.


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Published on: 7th February 2017

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