Entrepreneurs may hear “fake it until you make it” and “defeat imposter syndrome” more than the average person. Many people only notice entrepreneurial success — the money, the cars, the new office. But what they don’t see are the sacrifices entrepreneurs make to create success — likely for years. Many people don’t see the mental health problems that occur in entrepreneurs — like depression and anxiety. It becomes crucial to battle anxiety and depression as an entrepreneur.
The rise of depression amongst entrepreneurs is growing to an all-time high. A 2015 study from researchers at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UC San Francisco showed that 72 percent of entrepreneurs experienced mental health concerns, with 49 percent experiencing chronic mental illness (including depression, bipolar disorder, and others). That’s almost three-quarters of the entrepreneurial population suffering from some type-of diagnosable mental health issue.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to find information on how entrepreneurs can manage and overcome depression. Society often encourages entrepreneurs to ignore the signs. Many feel isolated and afraid that their peers will judge them. What does depression look like? What does anxiety look like. Can you identify these two issues in yourself or others? Have you looked for these stealers of the soul? Since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I’d discuss some ways small business owners can cope, manage, and even solve their anxiety and depression problems.
The Causes & Studies on Depression
Depression is identified as a serious medical condition. Being sad is not the same as being depressed. Depression impacts the way you feel, think, and act (or react). According to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 in 6 people experience depression in their lifetime.
However, 30 percent of entrepreneurs (almost 1 in 3) experience depression in their lives. There are many reasons for this. First, society puts a lot of pressure on the entrepreneur to succeed. Small business owners work extended work hours. They often struggle to form a vibrant personal life. The constant grind of turning an idea into a reality can be overwhelming. Stress pervades.
Unfortunately, these stressful periods last a long time. Many entrepreneurs are in hustle mode for 3-5 years before their product attracts a large customer base. For some, it’s even longer. To complicate matters, many novice entrepreneurs, in their haste to become profitable and successful, neglect their physical and mental well-being. Many skip meals, choose work to oversleep and fail to exercise their brains and bodies. I’ve met some over the years who abuse substances that help keep them awake and sharp for long periods so they can complete projects. Each of these excessive choices negatively impacts mental health and can lead to burnout or severe depression.
How To Identify Depression
Clinical depression requires a medical diagnosis. However, there are warning signs that any entrepreneur can identify before talking to a medical professional. Symptoms include loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, increased fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, loss or increase in appetite, or irritability.
Depression is different for most people, but if you see these symptoms, get checked. Also, notice if your sadness has increased or lasts longer than is comfortable. The longer you wait to identify a problem that 1 in 3 entrepreneurs have, the more difficult it can be to manage once you’ve identified it.
Discussing a Taboo Topic – Suicide
Many entrepreneurs neglect to take care of their mental wellbeing. Not seeking help can lead to deeper problems, even suicide. The fact is that most suicide deaths occur only 15 minutes after the person has thought about it.
With a surge in the last few years of entrepreneurs taking their own lives (within the previous two years, many notable deaths include Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and Mao Kankan), the entrepreneurial community is slowly but surely realizing that depression and suicide are more common than many people thought before.
Identifying depression symptoms earlier, and taking steps to deal with depression, can help prevent the worst case scenario. While depression is more common among entrepreneurs, it doesn’t have to be a label that you live with for the rest of your life. These thoughts and feelings don’t have to define who you are as a person. Depression is a mental disorder; that’s it, nothing more. It doesn’t lessen you or your accomplishments, it doesn’t have to hinder your life, and it certainly doesn’t have to be the reason you end your life. It can be diagnosed and treated through various methods. And there is help out there.
Ways to Seek Help
While many entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of seeking help through an employer, they do have many other options they can use should they suffer from depression. Eating right, regularly exercising, and taking breaks are all important. But, it’s also crucial to go a bit deeper in how you seek help.
For one, many entrepreneurs need a strong personal foundation. Due to the nature of the entrepreneural journey, there is additional job isolation and long work hours are all too common. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people, who stay in your corner through your ups and downs — is extremely important. Watching out for the other person who may be suffering is important also. That way, you know you’re not alone, even if your depression wants you to believe you are.
Of course, you can also take advantage of therapy, and medication (if prescribed by your medical professional). Helplines such as the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) and The National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline (800- 950-NAMI) — are very valuable.
Most importantly, as an entrepreneur, don’t neglect your feelings and thoughts. The sooner you search for a diagnosis — or at the very least, seek-help, the better your chances of fighting and winning. It’s okay to admit you’re not okay and to seek that help that you need and deserve.
While depression may affect one in three entrepreneurs, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Talk about the topic. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not okay. Expressing yourself should be safe, and can open dialogue among entrepreneurs that can increase awareness, offer you support, and more. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t feel like they must suffer to find success. Depression is real, but it can also be beaten.