Behind every startup founder is a looming statistic: Thirty-two percent of entrepreneurs struggle with two or more mental health conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 US adults--43.8 million, or 18.5 percent--experience mental illness in a given year. Entrepreneurs are at an ever higher risk than the average American to experience depression, anxiety and ADHD--only the top three of an extensive list.
Triggers for mental health issues and startup culture go hand-in-hand. I've seen it first hand -- in people I work with and the companies that join our accelerator programs. Starting a business is never easy, but mental health issues doesn't have to add to the challenge.
May is National "Mental Health Month", but for entrepreneurs support needs to continue throughout the year. The first step for recovery is recognition, and if we as a startup community don't continue to explore this topic and find proper solutions, we will never learn to overcome.
Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars, starting blogging about his mental health in 2013 and was surprised by the amount, and recognizable names, in the responses he received. Through the network of friends, family and colleagues who gave him a supportive ear to speak freely about his health, he found solutions. But for many, talking is the hardest part.
It's understandable to want to keep quiet, especially when startup life moves so fast. But there are too many instances of our startup brothers and sisters who couldn't find a solution before it was too late.
You're Not Alone.
Know that you are not facing this alone, and there are many avenues available to speak up, listen and learn from nearly a third of entrepreneurs who are struggling. And there are many organizations that want to hear your story, like Impact Founder, Support Groups Central, Sigmend (disclaimer: Techstars funded), that can teach us about ourselves and help us continue to learn from one another.
We need to be the first to diagnose ourselves. If we don't understand, or at least suspect, that we may be dealing with a mental health issue larger than every-day stress, it may not hit the surface until it's bubbled over.
Mental Health America offers a free Mental Health Toolkit that helps users understand that some common behaviors are risk factors or indicators of mental health conditions. The organization has also compiled a list of other tools and tests to help you better understand your own mental health landscape.
Those who suffer from depression often battle feelings of inferiority that create a false sense of self-worth, and in our world, entrepreneurs are bound to compare themselves to the greats like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
No matter how successful you are, there's always going to be somebody who did it better or earlier or made a greater profit. When 90 percent of startups fail to meet their projections it's easy to blame yourself, but, again, you're not alone.
Create Open Workplaces.
The stigma around mental health struggles is dissipating, and it's important--especially in a startup environment--to take appropriate measures for self-care. Who could forget the amazing story of the startup CEO who praised his employee for taking time off to focus on her mental wellbeing.
Equally as important as prioritizing your mental health is fostering a compassionate work environment that acknowledges the potential mental health struggles of employees. At Techstars, we've pledged to end stigma on mental health by publishing insightful blogs from our community on many mental health topics, providing free counseling and creating a bank of solutions for founders who are struggling.
Startups are rife with situations that counter what every mental wellness expert would tell you to do. You shoulder too much responsibility, make difficult decisions and engage in competitor comparison. What sets successful businesses apart is not ignoring mental health struggles across the company, but challenging employees to face them head on in order to create better leaders, and a better business.
As we are thrust into 2018, let's make sure we continue to talk about mental health on a consistent basis and not just during one month of the year. The ongoing dialogue will help others recognize these issues and will give entrepreneurs the strength necessary to overcome daily challenges.