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Raising Awareness about Mental Health in Entrepreneurs

In today’s start-up culture, becoming an entrepreneur and founding the next Fortune 500 seems like an incredibly desirable path. Successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs achieve celebrity status. This path tempts innovators to leave steady desk jobs in favor of becoming a founder who takes an idea and turns it into a Silicon Valley success story.

Despite the romantic connotations of start-up culture, there is a dark underbelly that plagues the world of entrepreneurship. Many founders and business owners, on their path to success, often face debilitating and dangerous mental health problems.

The first step towards addressing this epidemic is to spread awareness of the issue. This begins with combatting the stereotype of entrepreneurs as those with unrelenting energy, positivity, idealism, and resources. In reality, many start-up founders practice a “fake it until you make it” attitude that does not give away many clues that they could be struggling.

Factors that Make Entrepreneurs Vulnerable to Mental Health Issues

Starting a business is a stressful and emotionally turbulent undertaking with a high risk of failure. Three out of four venture-backed startups fail and over 95 percent of startups fall short of their initial projections, according to research by a Harvard Business School lecturer. In addition, entrepreneurs wear many hats and get bad news almost every day, all while trying to remain optimistic and committed to the idea that motivated them in the first place.

Entrepreneurs often completely lack work-life balance leads to poor mental health stemming from a lack of rest, socialization, or attentiveness to physical wellbeing. This leads to crippling depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Being sleep-deprived, undernourished, over-caffeinated and financially constrained is a recipe for disaster if these patterns become unchecked long-term factors.

Additionally, many entrepreneurs have personality types with a predisposition to addiction, given their relentless and ambitious mindsets. This can make them particularly vulnerable to substance-abuse or other numbing tendencies.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat these factors that lead to mental health problems. The following contains a list of actionable steps that entrepreneurs, employers, and team leaders can take to mitigate the build up of stress:

Tips for Self-Employed Entrepreneurs

  • Get out of the house and do your work outside your own home as often as possible. Going through the routine of getting up early, getting dressed for work, and going somewhere to get tasks done can create stability and routine. Begin by signing up for a co-working space, find a coffee shop with fast WiFi, or a local library. Feeling like you are a part of a community can go a long way.
  • Find a mentor with start-up experience that you can turn to when you run into inevitable roadblocks, and who can empathize with your unique experience. This will give you the sense that you are not alone in your struggle, no matter how much it might feel like you are.
  • Locate other entrepreneurs starting on their own companies or working on their own projects. Even if their industry, idea, or focus is completely different, you can form a support system for one another and even go in together on a co-working space.
  • In your life outside of work, set in place something that is consistent. Entrepreneurs face uncertainty and flux more often than not. It can be very crucial to have something steady to turn to such as a pet, a daily routine, a kind roommate, or a hobby. If you have something that isn’t constantly changing, then you can gain a sense of security that may be lacking in your professional life.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit that you’ve messed up! Vulnerability, especially with your partners if you are in the early stage of a start-up, can be crucial.
  • Set realistic goals with incremental steps, rather than overly ambitious goals that will seem soul-crushing if you don’t accomplish them right away. Have a long term focus and a big picture goal but break it down into manageable pieces that you can fit into a realistic timeline. This is one way to be kind to yourself and realize that you are only human.

Steps Employers Can Take To Mitigate Workplace Stress

If you are a founder with a workspace and a team of employees, you can play a big role in setting a top-down workplace culture that encourages mental health and wellness.

  • Encourage your employees to take regular breaks so they can get fresh air, movement, and clear their heads. A 30-minute walk a day is great for mental health.
  • Make lunch hour a can’t miss event in your office. Cater when you can, have a rotating schedule for people to bring in treats, set up a great dining area, etc. Discourage desk lunches as much as possible!
  • Make a ‘steps’ competition. Whoever logs the most steps per day gets a prize at the end of the month! Your employees can make teams, plan hikes and runs for the weekends, and engage in friendly competition.
  • Host wellness events in the office such as fitness classes, mindfulness workshops, pet therapy, and introspective retreats.
  • Offer flexible working hours and vacation days, and encourage your employees to take those vacations!
  • Make resources available to those who may be struggling such as on-site HR representatives and telepsychiatry appointments.
  • If you have the resources, obtain a business account with Headspace, Calm, or another meditation app and give your employees free access. You can even have Meditation Mondays where your whole office gathers together for a morning mindfulness meditation to start the week off right.

Signs of Stress for a Boss Or Co-Worker To Watch For

Even if you are doing everything you can as an office to cultivate a stress-free work environment for your team, there are still factors out of your control that can lead to mental health issues for employees. Here are signs of stress, anxiety, and depression to watch out for in those around you.

  • Behavioral symptoms include:
    • An increase in sick days or absenteeism
    • Aggression
    • Diminished creativity and initiative
    • A drop in work performance
    • Problems with interpersonal relationships
    • Mood swings and irritability
    • Lower tolerance of frustration and impatience
    • Disinterest
    • Isolation
  • Within a team, it is common that when someone is upset or offended, you won’t hear anything at all from them. They tend to retreat. When you’re not hearing from someone for an extended period of time, it could be a sign of distress. Be sure to reach out, check in, ask them to lunch, etc.

How A Manager or Team Leader Can Encourage Mental Health and Wellness Transparency

Team leaders, managers, founders, and employers should know that mental health is a severe safety issue that must be taken seriously. Setting in place a company culture that recognizes the severity of poor mental health can be critical to helping employees in their times of need.

  • As a leader, you have the ability to create a culture of transparency, vulnerability, and trust. In your communications, it can go a long way to admit that you were wrong or that you need help. Starting a culture of sharing from the top-down is important in sending the message that each of us has room to grow, things to figure out, and imperfect days.
  • If you are a hands-off leader or float around several offices, it can be a good idea to have a few managers in each office with their boots on the ground who are keeping an eye on employees regularly. These people should be seen as a friendly face to be able to open up to, and can facilitate these relationships by getting to know team members and their goals one-on-one.
  • Don’t ignore little signs. Even if you have a 1:1 meeting with an employee, they still may be reluctant to open up. If their work performance has been uncharacteristically poor, if they seem distracted, or if anything seems out of place, you may have to deploy an intermediary. Employees may be reluctant to open up to a boss, but feel more inclined to speak with a co-worker or HR.
  • Have systems in place to consistently measure performance and hold team members accountable. This is one way to tell if there’s something going on regarding someone’s work quality, project timeliness, and overall productivity. Without oversight, someone’s issue may go unnoticed which is the most dangerous situation to be in.
  • JD Houvener, founder and CEO of Bold Patents, says that his team created a Slack channel that he as the boss does not have access to! This Slack channel serves as a virtual ‘water cooler’ where co-workers can go chat about non-work stuff. Houvener says that the channel apparently facilitates friendly and fun communication between employees so they can let off steam without the boss there. If you work on Slack, create a channel like this as a boss-free place where friendships blossom and employees can casually come together.
  • Ensure that you have a counselor or HR representative available on-staff as well as go-to resources for employees to go to. Have a system in place to be able to anonymously report a problem or a list of resources someone can obtain if they don’t want to talk directly.

If you are an entrepreneur in need of mental health treatment, you can find a list of resources here.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate self care routines into your daily life and thrive in your business as a result? Get our Ultimate Guide to Self Care here. 

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