Thanks to bold self-revelations from some top names in the industry, greater media coverage (such as this award-winning story from Inc. magazine by Jessica Bruder) and, sadly, the tragic loss of several members of the startup community to suicide, the curtain that once completely walled off founders' mental health struggles is starting to crack open.
The bravery of A-list investor Brad Feld has a lot to do with this. Having battled throughout his life with depressive episodes, the Foundry Group managing director publically owned up to his struggles last year on his blog. "Then came the emails. Hundreds of them," Bruder reports. "Many were from entrepreneurs who had also wrestled with anxiety and despair."
"If you saw the list of names, it would surprise you a great deal," Bruder quotes Feld as saying. "They are very successful people, very visible, very charismatic--yet they've struggled with this silently."
And soon it wasn't just in private emails that founders were sharing their pain. Other high-profile members of entrepreneurship community started writing about their mental health issues. Now it seems this trend is continuing to slowly trickle down to less prominent founders and newcomers to the startup scene.
On TechCrunch recently, Catherine Shu was able to round up six entrepreneurs who have suffered from depression to anonymously share their stories in-depth. The fact that so many founders around the globe (some are clearly British, another mentions his bedroom in Sydney, Australia) are willing to correspond with a reporter shows just how widespread these issues are, while demonstrating both the increased interest in discussing the issue openly and the remaining stigma (names were left off the article, after all).
The half-dozen diverse stories are a must read for anyone who has lived under the shadow of depression, covering the founders' level of disclosure about their condition, recommended approaches to staying healthy, and opinions on the level of stigma remaining in the industry. The stories indicate both encouraging progress and room for improvement.
"I went through many years of my life thinking that balance was for losers and that people truly passionate about their work are possessed by it and therefore cannot separate between life and work. That's bullshit. Before, I used to work all the time and because I didn't have any discipline around it, I was really unproductive and obviously, highly emotional about everything," says one founder, illustrating the greater focus on mental health and self-care percolating through the community. "Now I try to 'treat myself' to runs and TV shows and BBQs with friends and books that make my brain twist in ways that work doesn't. I am now a million times more productive, happier, and real."
But darker realities remain. "If you run a company with shareholders and expectations of success, it helps to show you are strong, that you can handle everything. A lot of the projects we work on are collaborations with other digital agencies/developers. If they thought we were melting down as entrepreneurs then perhaps they wouldn't want to partner or share as much risk with us," says another entrepreneur. "Maybe I could tell everyone and it'd be fine, but at least for now I feel like it would work against our chances."
What's your response to the gradually rising awareness about mental health issues among entrepreneurs?