Handling mental issues as an entrepreneur
This essay is written by Ariel Cohen and Elina Valve
Entrepreneurs capitals are more than just financial capital. Mental health is part of entrepreneurs working ability. Most common occupational disease is exhaustion. As a entrepreneur you need to improve entrepreneurskills all the time. One of these skills are performance and stress managment. Entrepreneur needs to be good at self managment to be good at leading. As in airplane you put oxygen mask first in your face, then others.
This essay is about our own thinking and experience in stress managment and mental issues throughout life as an entrepreneur. We tried to think what leads to that and what kind of stigmas is behind it and how we can manage it.
Lately in my life, there has been this series of unfortunate events going on and combining that with other things that has happened to me in the past, l had to think of many ways how to handle these issues with school, entrepreneurship, hobbies, friends and being a father to my amazing son. The reality is that there is not any common model how to do it and every one of us are different in many ways, but there is some general things that can help each and everyone who is having hard times in their life. This essay is not written by a psychologist or other mental health professional, it is mostly written from the viewpoint of a regular guy with some shit going on in life.
When l refer to shit going in my life, l mean that my best friend just died in a car accident and l have been battling with injured leg what left and will leave me out of wrestling for a long time. l have been diagnosed with bipolar dissorder and suffered from anxiety and depression for a long time.
When l started to write, l mostly wanted to write this to myself, but when going deeper into the subject l tought that this could turn into real essay and l could learn more about depression among entrepreneurs. Mental issues are often kept in secret because it is not something people preserve to be normal and it shows that people are actually much more fragile and broken. The stigma around mental issues is real and it is the reason why people are not seeking for help or talk about it. One in five adults in US are living with mental issues and less than a half of them are seeking help becouse they are too ashamed and fear judgiment. (Libby M. 2020)
Stigma means, when someone is viewing you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personality that is thought to be a disadvantage. Unfortantly stigmas can lead to discrimination. It can be obivious and straight or just completly unintentional or subtle.
“Some of the negative effects of stigmas can include:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
- The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation”
(Mayo clinic staff. Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental health. 2017)
The topic of mental health is more visible than ever and is considered as significant public health issue. They are prevalent, disabling and often chronic illnesses that causes huge economic burden for for society, causing huge almount of direct and inderect costs, influencing significally the outcome of cancer, diabetes and cardiac diseases, lowering your immune system and also increasing the risk of substance abuse. So why so few of us are seeking help they need? The answer is that the stigma around it is still a huge barrier. (Annie S. 2020)
When someone has a physical illness, like broken hand, cancer or even a diabetes, we rally around them and offer our help, support and emphaty. Strong network provides resilience and help people manage trough stress in hard times. Why is it that when someone who is struggling with mental illness and is being brave enough to actually talk about it, rather than being supportive, we throw out platitudes like “Just dont think about it”, “Just be positive and think about positive things”, “There is bigger problems than that” or “lot of people are having harder times than you”. This attitude usually just does more harm than good.
“Stigmatization of mental illness isn’t something new. Marginalization of people with mental illness has been going on for thousands of years. Early beliefs about the causes of mental illness, such as demonic possession, magic, the wrath of a deity or moral punishment, provoked reactions of fear, mistrust, and discrimination.” (Libby M. 2020).
So how all of this relates to entrepreneurship?
The game of entrepreneurship is idolized and associated with words like “Freedom” and “Autonomy” but the emotional side of individuals is not talked about often. Freedom brings with it responsibility. Sometimes responsibility about whole business is exhausting. Entrepreneurs have lots of responsibility what leads often to burn out. Entrepreneuship is this golden road to success and you are the boss of yourself. Although entrepreneurship is surrounded by these motivating words, unfortunately he reality doesn’t always match. UC Berkeley, a university in California recently published a study about mental health issues around entrepreneurs and they found that 72 % of them have reported mental health concerns during their career. (“The entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%) and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants.
Groups did not differ in rates of anxiety, with 27% of entrepreneurs and 26% of non-entrepreneurs reporting anxiety concerns. Asymptomatic entrepreneurs described their first-degree relatives as experiencing significantly more mental health conditions than did the asymptomatic comparison participants, including depression, ADHD, substance use conditions, and anxiety.” (UK berkeley )
Now that there is clear proof, that there is a lot of mental health issues around entrepreneurship, we can start to go a bit deeper to what is the actually the psychological price of entrepreneurship.
Like we all know, there is companies and entrepreneurs everywhere you go to and you might think that starting a somehow succesful company is easy, but in reality it is much harder that you think. The small business administration defines a small business to be operation with under 500 employees and altough it seems like small business or startup companies are not big part of economy, small businesses actually make up 99,9 % off all US businesses. According to the small business administration, in 2019, the failure rate of startups were around 90 % divided to 10 years, with over 50 % of them failing in first three years. Now, after adressing this, the mental issues among most of entrepreneurs does not sound odd. You are in this rollercoaster of feelings during your journey and you are most likely to crash in the end. That sounds tempting right? (Bryant. S. 2020)
There are many reasons why entrepreneurs get depressed. Having a bad success in your company, naturally being prone to high levels of anxiety, difficulties feeling that you are not in control of things, getting rejections from investors, working too much and suffering from burnout, being sabotaged by your partners, staff or investors. It is not rare to go bankrupt and actually financial problems are the leading cause of anxiety, depression and suicidality.
Female entrepreneurs tend to face gender-based obstacles such as gender bias, biological influences, gender-based violence, challenging work conditions (e.g., gender pay gap, sexual harassment, longer working hours, aesthetic labour, etc.) Good thing is, that women are usually more likely to talk about their feelings than men so it is easier to recognize the problem and find a solution. (Negruzi. A. 2021)
Male entrepreneurs usually want to have more control of everything and financial stress is a significant risk for people who thinks that they are in the role of “provider”. Altough we live in this equal world, the old roles from history still exists. Sadly, many men still live in this illusion.
Entrepreneurs usually juggle with many roles, thinking they need to do everything alone, face countless setbacks with lost customers, disputes with partners, all the time increasing competition, issues with hiring employees and covid19, all while trying to make payroll. You are battling against constant traumatic events in your career that can, and will affect you in the future. Traumatic events can cause more mental health issues and just like a domino effect the pit just gets deeper. Starting entrepreneurs might think that they are much more resilient what they actually are. You eat too much or too little, you dont sleep, you stop exercising and make your social life suffer.
“People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” says psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael. A Freeman, who is researching mental health and entrepreneurship. Those states may also include depression despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking. (Bruder. J.)
“Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management–also known as “fake it till you make it.” Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions (No. 188 on the Inc. 500), explains the phenomenon with his favorite analogy: a man riding a lion. “People look at him and think, This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!” says Thomas. “And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?” (Bruder. J.)
Tools to handle mental issues
Dopamine is playing huge part in human mental health. If we think about daily routines and daily life, there are many little things example learning new thing or social interaction, what causes little spontaneous dopamine spikes. Our daily life should cause these spikes randomly. If we dont have dopaminen spikes at all, we live in dopamine desert. Dopamine desert leads us in bad situation where we try to reach pleasure in unhealthy way example fast food, or drinking alcohol.
First entrepreneur needs to understand how important is having a good mental healt. They need to recognise own resourses. Basic broplem solving is understanding the problem. Then you can choose the way to solve it. One of the most easiest and still most important way to get dopamine spikes is social interaction. Hundreds of studies establish that social support benefits mental and physical healt (Cohen 2004). Social support may have indirect effect on health trough envhanced mental health, by reducing the impact of stress, or by fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Cohen 2004). Because this is one of the most important way to keep good mental health, we need to as an entrepreneur have safety network. Before starting business you need to make sure, you have people around you cheering up and standing your back if something happens.
Second, if you watch how most successful people is living, you can see they have pretty good habits. They wake up early, workout, eat healthy etc. Its not magic or something everybody can´t reach. Their life is all aboout balance, and they understand how owning good habits keep up the good performance. This is something everybody should learn, but specially entrepreneur. Because entrepreneurs time is limited, we need to be good at self-managment.
We get dopamine when we succeed. Commitment at works is more good, when our work and reward is balanced, (Koskela 2011). Goals needs to be achievable and in own skilllevel. If target is too far or too hard to accomplish, its often fails and cause too much stress.
One most cheapest tools to handle stress and mental struggles is to be thanksfull. Gratitude is one tool to make our mind set up more positive and happier. Gratitude take attention away from failures, disappointment, it strengthen selfworth and dignity, (Mattila, 2018) Gratitude is like a medicine. But without side effect. Gratitude training can be just a 15minutes per day. It can be meditation or walking in the nature. It can be gratitudejournal, where you put 3 things you are thanksfull about current day.
In book thinking slow and fast, Daniel Kanheman, was point about entrepreneurs being often too optimistic. They think that statistics doesen´t apply with tem. This is common illusion. Example 90% riders think that they can drive better than is it. (Kahenman, 2011,299). This illusion leads to bigger risk taking. And it´s not bad thing to being optimistic. Entrepreunship sometimes needs that, you need to believe your own idea on the other hand you need to identify the situation where is best place to give up.
My own battles as a entrepreneur have been about exhaustion and performance-orientedness. I make too much pressure in my head. I often catch myself thinking that i need to be like next Elon Musk to be accepted as a human. This kind of thinking is not good to mental health. Its good im already self-conscious about it. The problem is that im batteling with myself that is it good or bad and do i need try to achieve success like that? Well you get it, im girl who have straight A syndrome. This has been my syndrome as long as I remember and often i think i`m trying to be some kind of super human. This is very common problem among women.
I started as an private entrepreneur. Then worked with my friend and we established smoothie bar last summer. I can tell you, this job wasn´t two girls job at all. I mean about that, we worked whole summer 24/7 and burned out ourselves. Now i have done teamworking and projects in Kipinä. I can say that team has the power. We can help eachothers and no one arent left alone. This leads us to conclusion; Team working is more valuable than solo working as an entrepreneur. I know it is tempting to start own business all alone, because well all money flows to you. But if you think about it in bigger picture, you see you can´t do it all by yourself. You need to delegate responsibility to others and trust them. This is the point about team leadership. Maybe you have many members in your business, but you really do everything right in firts place. It is better to be slow and sure than fast and failure.
Mattila, A. 2018. Gratitude. https://www.terveyskirjasto.fi/ont00901
Koskela, M. 2011. Entrepreneurs working ability https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/34981/Koskela_Matti.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Kanheman, D. 2011. Thinking fast and slow. Turtleback books.
MacCathy. L. 2020. Why we need to stop judging mental illness. Read on 18.05.2022
Mayo Clinic Staff. 2017. Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Read on 15.04.2022.
Stuart. A. 2020. How depression affects your body. Read on 25.04.2022.
Freeman, A. M. Johnson, S. L. Staudenmaier, P. J. Zisser, M. R. 2015. Are entrepreneurs touched by the fire. Read on 25.4.2022
Bryant. S. 2020. How many startups fail and why. Read on 25.04.2022.
Negruzi. E. 2021. Lets talk about entrepreneurs’ mental health. Read on 25.04.2022.
Bruder. J. 2014. The psychological price of entrepreneurship. Read on 25.04.2022